London Churches, Cathedrals and of Course, Celebrations!

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A great weekend in London!  Another great weekend in London, I should say.  My second in three weeks.  Loved it!  And it was hot and sunny, totally unexpected.  Just check out these photos, taken on Sunday, above is Westminster Abbey, and below is Trafalgar Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church… 

This weekend was planned around the 80th birthday celebration (and book launch) of good friend and amazing hymnwriter, Rev. Christopher Idle, who has just published his third volume of collected hymns, this one called, ‘Trees Along The River’. The event was held at St. Mark’s Church, Kennington, near the Oval.  Wonderful to see so many old friends, including some I knew long ago in Tanzania and haven’t seen since.  And some I once met in Taizé and haven’t seen for several years.  Anyway, this is Christopher and his oldest son, Tim and youngest grandson.  Such a lovely family.  The cake was incredible too, reflecting Christopher’s love of hymns, Arsenal and cricket at the Oval.  Many congratulations to him! 

The following day was a Sunday off.  A Sunday off in London.  Wow!  What an opportunity!  I wanted to visit the biggest churches I could find. Not the biggest church buildings, but the largest congregations. So I found myself at 11:00 am at Hillsong, which meets in the Dominian Theatre in central London, and seats over 2,000; it was totally full! 

In the evening I went to the service at 7:00 pm at Holy Trinity, Brompton, famous for its Alpha Courses.  Loved it!  But there was a notice saying not to take photos.  And it was dark. So I took heed, and had a break from photos… 🤔🤔 (that’s me, deep in thought!)

And in-between those 2 services? Well, I arranged to meet up with 3 very lovely Taiwan students who I know from Taiwan, and who have all just arrived in London to study. One is studying MA in Art & Christianity at King’s College, another is studying fashion and the other design, all at famous London universities.  They didn’t know each other directly, but for 2 of them, their parents are colleagues from St. John’s University, Taiwan. Of those, one is a member of Dazhi Presbyterian Church, Taipei, one is a member of Good Shepherd Church, Taipei, and the third is a member at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei.

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We found ourselves joining the 54th anniversary celebrations of the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Chinese congregation 聖馬田中文堂  led by Rev. Paul Lau (with us in the photo below).  We were very warmly welcomed by the church leaders, and after the service, we enjoyed the most delicious Chinese food at a celebration meal in a room downstairs.  So moving, cos we hadn’t realized it was to be a special anniversary service, and with a wonderful meal provided too!

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And afterwards, it was so sunny outside that we walked outside to see the church (see top photos), and then on around London.  How can you NOT walk around London on such a beautiful September Sunday afternoon?

And my final church of the weekend to show you – though it was actually the first one I visited on Friday afternoon en route to elsewhere. It’s a former Anglican Church now converted to be St. Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Kentish Town. This is it!  So ordinary outside, but oh so stunning inside!  Do go and visit! 

And the last amazing place I went to, not a church nor a cathedral, and I was only there a few minutes, was the British Museum. This is the view inside.

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Check out the Tennyson quote on the bottom right of the above photo… this is it:

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And in fact this is where most people (well, tourists anyway) were going on Sunday morning, not to all the churches, but to the British Museum. The entrance was completely packed out!

So thanks be to God for a great weekend in London!  Almost churched-out (!), but not quite.  Really enjoyed the variety of worship and all the different buildings and people.  And many thanks to all the kind friends who welcomed me for meals and coffee and cake and more.  Much appreciated.

Now saying goodbye to the great capital and heading off to East Anglia tomorrow.  In fact off to visit the very place where my family and Christopher Idle’s family knew each other 20+ years ago. Neighbouring parishes in sunny Suffolk. So, guys, just watch this space, and thanks for your prayers!

London’s Street Art @ Shoreditch: Must Go!

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The best place in London to see street art in abundance is the Shoreditch area, and wherever you go, there’s tons of murals, paintings and graffiti of every kind ~ some of it very famous, like the 2 original ones above by Banksy.  Just walk around and there’s so much to see, you end up walking miles and miles.  New stuff is coming up all the time.  So check it out, often.  I love it!  This was my street art walk last Friday in the area….

I love the way these 2 almost interact….

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And some more, including the community garden on Brick Lane….

So, get yourself to Shoreditch and, well, just enjoy wandering around!

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Mountains and More @ The Lake District!

So here I am, in the Lake District for a week visiting family – and friends – and based at Troutbeck.  It’s deep in the Lake District.  Of course, the Lake District is famous for mountains, lakes, steamboats, views, daffodils, poets, slate mines, sheep – and tourists.  Seen them all, well, except daffodils, and maybe poets.  The Lake District is contained entirely in Cumbria, and Cumbria is so famous for its mountains that people forget about the coast, but it’s beautiful, especially on a sunny day…  This is it!

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THE Lake District place for coffee is to bring your own and sit on the seat overlooking Tarn Hows ~ with views of the Langdale Pikes…

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And Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam…

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THE place for lunch is the Bluebird Cafe on Coniston Water, where you can watch the steamboats

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Other highlights ~ a wonderful trip to St. Bees, on the west coast of Cumbria, with views over to the Isle of Man.  Two of my Taiwan friends came to St. Bees to start the 309 km (192 miles) Coast to Coast Walk, so we went over to meet them for the day of their arrival. Drove a whole circuit of the Lake District, took the northern route over via Keswick and came back by the southern route via Sellafield and Newby Bridge.  Quite a trip, very spectacular.  St. Bees beach (see top 2 photos) is the official start of the Coast to Coast Walk….

We ended up at the St. Bees Priory drop-in coffee morning, where we met lots of lovely local people who entertained us with tales of the St. Bees Man (fascinating stuff – but gruesome, especially over coffee and cake!).  Also met a lady who had learned all about the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (Formosa) when she was a child in the then-Presbyterian Church (now URC) just up the road in Whitehaven.   Ah, it’s a small world!

The west coast of Cumbria is really very remote, but in the 19th century, it was very famous for its theological college, there being only 3 at the time: Oxford, Cambridge and, yes, St. Bees…

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St. Bees Priory is the huge sandstone church with an impressive main entrance…

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And inside pretty impressive too…

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Where else? Well, apart from visiting lots of lovely friends, I did give the sermon during the Sunday service at Jesus Church, Troutbeck on Sunday morning, and a talk about Taiwan on Tuesday afternoon more locally… thanks to everyone for their warm welcome!

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And I mustn’t forget the local pub, the ‘Mortal Man’…

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And now? Preparing to set off down south tomorrow. But do spare a thought for my Taiwan friends on their Coast to Coast Walk over the next 2 weeks.  The weather has been very unsettled so far, with rain and sun and cloud and wind in equal amounts ~ so wish them well!

Greenbelt 2018 ‘Acts of the Imagination’

‘Seeds of creative imagination will grow forests of change’…

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Just been to my first ever Greenbelt Festival YES! It’s only been going since 1974, so it’s taken me a bit of time to get there. But having got there, y’know what, it’s a grand place to be. And especially because of the fact (not despite of!) I’d only been back in the country for 3 days. Should you find yourself living elsewhere in the world for long periods of time – and then on return, want an in-depth but all-expansive, see-everything, do-everything, learn-everything kind of immersive experience of the best that the UK church has to offer, then Greenbelt is THE place to go.

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Greenbelt describes itself as ‘a festival of arts, faith and justice. The best you’ve never heard of’. That’s kind of it. All those famous people (who I’d never heard of anyway) were all there. Doing their stuff, doing what they do best, whether it was a rock band, performance art, leading worship or a seminar or cooking, they were all there, and we all had a chance to learn from them, to see and to do.

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Greenbelt says ‘Our history is firmly rooted within a Christian tradition which is world-affirming, politically and culturally engaged. Ours is a belief that embraces instead of excludes. And, as such, the festival is an inter-generational celebration, inclusive and accepting of all, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background or belief.’

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Which really means that everyone is welcomed. And it all takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend every year, and since 2013, has been held in the grounds of Boughton House, Kettering, Northants. That in itself is relevant. Only a few miles up the road is Corby, one of the many places I lived as a child. In those days, Corby was full of vast new housing estates, and from there, we rode our bikes into the local countryside, all around Boughton House, to and through all the neigbouring villages. But of course, we never went into Boughton House or even into the grounds. And so here I was, now, all these years later in 2018, camping in the very grounds of Boughton House. Whoopee!

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Yes, I admit it, Greenbelt is a bit of a culture shock. But of the pleasant kind. Mainly cos it’s so big and there’s so many people in such a huge area, that you can be as involved or as uninvolved as you like. You can go to everything or nothing. And you can see, learn and do as much as you like.

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A little rewind to last week, and I had left Kota Kinabalu, E. Malaysia very early on Monday August 20, heading for London. It was to be a long long long day that turned into night when the flight from Kuala Lumpur was delayed 2 hours, which meant missed connections. So after a night in a hotel in Dubai, finally I got to London on Tuesday afternoon. Collected a car on Thursday (very nice silver VW Polo) and set off for Greenbelt on Friday. Fortunately Greenbelt offer (via Camplight) packages for hire of a recycled tent, sleeping bag, mat and chair. So there I was all set up. This is my green tent in the foreground and the view from it. And very comfortable I was too!

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And the highlights of Greenbelt?

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On Friday, I went to see Carol Ann Duffy, the poet laureate. Amazing.

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On Saturday, I went to see Pussy Riot as they shared about their vision, motivation, their protests, time in prison – and answered questions. Really interesting. Learned a whole lot. Also saw the second half of their performance, ‘Riot Days’ on the Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday, there was the big Communion Service, taking the theme of ‘Windrush and Carnival’, remembering, praying and celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival in the UK from the Caribbean of the ‘Windrush Generation’. By mid-morning it was pouring with rain, and continued all day. I was there, in all my rain-gear and umbrella, sitting outside in the pouring rain along with everyone else. Every festival needs some rain. Not too much, but some. It adds to the atmosphere. And rain, of course means mud. Loved it!

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On Sunday afternoon, went to listen to Rev. Winnie Varghese sharing about the Episcopal Church and #metoo. Very relevant.

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On Sunday evening, there was a USPG Solidarity Prayer Vigil with the Igorot peoples from the northern Philippines, via London. They started with dancing…

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And on Monday, I went to see Jo Berry and Pat Magee sharing their incredibly moving story of how they became friends through the most terrible of events. Jo Berry’s father was MP, Anthony Berry, who was killed in the IRA Brighton Bombing in 1984, and Pat Magee was the man who planted the bomb. These days they work together to promote peace and understanding in areas of conflict. Unbelievably humbling.

And then I went to visit Boughton House. One of 4 stately homes belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch, it’s famous for its amazing art collections, beautiful gardens and cos it looks like Versailles. But, in the context of the 70th anniversary of Windrush, it is impossible to ignore the role of Britain in the slave trade, and even of Boughton House, and many other stately homes. Money flowed from their plantations in St. Lucia, presumably funding their extravagant lifestyle, art purchases, and house and garden renovations. Slaves from the Caribbean were brought to work in the house, a source of great pride at the time for the owners, symbolizing their own high status and great wealth. And here was Greenbelt in the midst of all that history. And yet, if you had to choose another venue, it’d be impossible to choose one that didn’t have similar associations. During World War II, the British Museum sent many of their treasures for safekeeping in Boughton House, the army took over the grounds, the US air force were stationed nearby, and by the end of the war there were 2,000 German POW soldiers living there too.

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Other highlights of Greenbelt were the discussions, seminars, workshops, concerts and art installations. Something for everyone…

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Christian Aid deserves a special mention for providing really yummy meals, asking only for a donation, and USPG provided lots of mission-minded activities.

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Meeting old friends was also a highlight. Especially grateful to Tim and his family who gave me delish Sunday breakfast and Phil who took me for Sunday lunch. Also Colin, Chuli, Michael and their families. And I mustn’t forget Church Mission Society, CMS, who had a stand, the CMS Mission Mystery House, which 4 of my CMS friends took care of all day long. They smiled non-stop all day, talked to everyone and still looked happy when I left on Monday lunchtime. These are the before and after photos, taken on Friday night and Monday lunchtime.  Still smiling.  Respect!

So if you get a chance to go to Greenbelt, then do go! Definitely worth it. A big thank you to all those who made it possible. And to those of my friends who were there, but who I only found out were there when I saw their photos on Facebook after they’d left, sorry we never met up. But then, what a lot we’ll have to talk about if and when we do meet up in the coming months!

Greenbelt was an oasis in the midst of daily life. Now back to reality. Been to East Grinstead, Rochester and now Deal, Kent. Listening to people sharing their stories of good things that have happened, and of course what’s gone wrong in the UK since I was last here (just don’t mention Southern Rail!), and what’s in fashion, and what’s out. Learning a lot!

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Thanks be to God for his many blessings and his provision.

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Onward and outward we go!

Goodbye Taiwan!

Gotta go when you gotta go ~ and so goodbye Taiwan until next year!

So much going on and so little time ~ so a small selection of other people’s photos of the last few weeks.  Teaching, preaching, eating, drinking, sightseeing and more…

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And, my friends from Taichung who came for the weekend ~ we went on the Pingxi Line and to Shifen Waterfall.  Ah, selfie heaven!

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This is the alternative Pingxi Line set of photos – the ones I took – ah, gotta love ’em all!

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It’s time to go when it’s time to go ~ and all UK people in Taiwan apparently know that to prepare for a 6-month visit to the UK, just before they leave Taiwan they must go to visit the dentist and hairdresser – cos both are so expensive in the UK, and not so easy to arrange either – but here, ah it’s wonderful!

So that done, I’m ready to go!  Prayers appreciated…

Adventures with Advent Church Choir 台灣聖公會降臨堂詩班 @ Jiji 集集, Checheng 車埕 and Wang Hsiang 望鄉部落 Kalibuan Village, Nantou County!

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A choir that has fun together, laughs together and goes on trips together is sure, yes, sure to sing and harmonize better at church on Sunday mornings.  And y’know, our Advent Church Choir is not just any old choir singing any old hymns. This choir is really quite special.  They are dedicated, not just to singing in the morning worship, but also to their rehearsal time on Sunday afternoons.  They spend hours and hours practicing.  And when they sing in the morning service, they sing with great joy.  They look happy.  Smiles all around.  This is a gift from God.  Not every choir sings quite so joyfully, believe me. What’s more, they are all friends.  And friendship means having fun together.  And having fun involves an annual trip somewhere interesting, usually involving an overnight stay, and singing at that church on the Sunday morning.  Visiting other churches and other denominations is a great blessing, and in doing so, we bring greetings from the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and our own church, Advent Church @ St. John’s University, Tamsui, Taipei.  The annual choir trip is officially called their choir retreat.  And so it was that this past weekend, I was invited to tag along too.  Thanks to the choir, especially their leader, Meng-Zhen, who invited me to join them.  So, early on Saturday morning, off we went in cars driving to Nantou County, in central Taiwan, about 3-4 hours south of Taipei…

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First we went to Jiji Town 集集 , famous for its train station, originally constructed by the Japanese colonial government in 1933, but very badly damaged in the Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake. Since rebuilt, incorporating the original design, and now a major tourist destination for Taiwan people.  And that means us – that’s us at the train station above.  The station is beautiful, and the surrounding station area is full of things to take photos of.  And with.  And next to.  And behind, in front of, above, below and around.  You can jump up.  Or sit down.  Or buy a balloon.  Or whatever.  By the time you have taken 100 photos, the train might have arrived.  For that is our main purpose.  To get the train along the Jiji Line to Checheng 車埕 Train Station.

The Jiji Train Line was built in 1922 as a single track to help move construction materials used in the Sun Moon Lake Hydroelectric Project.  Get to the very front of the train and the view is especially wonderful!

Checheng 車埕 Town lies just below the Mingtan Reservoir and Power Plant, with water coming into the reservoir from Sun Moon Lake further upstream.  Checheng itself is an old logging town, with a log pool and old buildings where the Japanese workers lived and laboured in the wood-processing plant and in preparing the logs for transportation downhill on the railway.  Now the buildings are a huge museum with all sorts of interesting things to do and look at….

About an hour or so from Checheng, further up in the central mountains, is Wang Hsiang Village.  Our main destination ~ and the real reason why I came along on this trip.  Any chance to visit an indigenous village with friends who know people there – and I’m in!

Wang Hsiang 望鄉部落 is known as Kalibuan in the Bunun language. This is a Bunun Village.  The Bunun people 布農 are a Taiwanese indigenous people, traditionally living in the very high mountains of central Taiwan.  Famous for their singing and their physical strength – turned out I recognized several of the men in the village who have come with us on our mountain expeditions in the past, helping us to carry everything and cook the food.  One of the aims of our visit this time was for us to learn something about the village – and the challenges, customs, faith and way of life of the people there.  The current population of Wang Hsiang is over 900, all members of the Presbyterian Church (built in 1951), where we worshiped on Sunday and our choir sang, accompanied by Yu-Jie on the piano – all so beautifully!

The Bunun choir sang too, their songs are incredible.  The church has 2 services, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with 200 at the morning service – often extending to 300 if all the children come too.  The church was so full that many were sitting outside.  Services are held in the Bunun language, but with a power point so everyone can follow the words in pinyin.  Actually, for our benefit, the sermon and some of the announcements were in Chinese, with translation into Bunun.  The preacher was Rev. Wu, who was visiting from a neighbouring village.  Most of the people now are second or third generation Christians – a challenge in itself, and in his sermon, Rev. Wu talked about how for Kalibuan Church to be a strong church, it needs victorious Christians, who are well-equipped through prayer, Bible reading, teaching and fellowship, united in love, and with a vision to go out and share the Gospel with others.

Wang Hsiang was not always a Bunun Village.  The history of Taiwan’s indigenous people and their relationship with the Japanese authorities during the colonial period of 1895-1945 is complex.  The Japanese authorities wanted Taiwan to modernize and develop, and all in Taiwan to be law-abiding model citizens under their control and management.  The indigenous peoples, especially those in the high mountains (like the Bunun people) – who were known as fierce warriors, resented such interference and responded with hostility. This led to conflict, violence, uprisings, killings and brutal crackdowns.  The Japanese authorities forced the high mountain peoples to relocate to lower altitudes where they could be more easily controlled, and killed many of their fiercest warriors who opposed their authority – including those in this photo, displayed on the village wall. This is the last known photo of the men before they were put to death.

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Wang Hsiang was originally inhabited by the Tsou 鄒 people, and when the Bunun people first moved here, there was much conflict.  But as the Bunun people grew in numbers, so eventually the Tsou moved away to the Alishan area, where they still are today.  The story goes that when the Bunun people were forced to move down from the high mountains, they were offered 3 choices of location, and they chose Wang Hsiang because of its distant view of Yushan 玉山, Taiwan’s highest mountain (3,952 m).  From their original high mountain village they could also see Yushan in the distance, so they felt more at home.  Their original home village was located up over 3,000 m in altitude, with snow every winter.  Down in Wang Hsiang, they’ve had snow once in the last 20 years.  The name, ‘Wang Hsiang’ means ‘looking towards home’ and that described their own longing to be back in their high mountain village, which was over the mountain of the same name – and / or maybe it described the feeling of the young homesick Japanese police officers stationed in Wang Hsiang.  Many theories of where the name came from… but the view is there all the same.  Except in the afternoons, the clouds roll in and it often rains in the high mountains ~ like on Saturday afternoon, when we arrived.  Yushan is in the clouds on the left of that big mountain in the centre…..

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Towards the end of the Japanese Era, the first missionaries appeared in the Wang Hsiang area and eventually the village elders made the decision to convert to Christianity.  In doing so, they also realized that their days of headhunting and violent conflict with the authorities were over, and so started a complete transformation of their way of life and thinking.

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These days, the pastors and church leaders are Bunun people from the village, and together with the tribal and village leaders, several income-generating projects have started locally.  These are community enterprises, designed to benefit the whole village.  Originally considered one of the most underdeveloped and backward of the local villages (they were the last to be connected to mains electricity, for example), in recent years there has been much hard work, and success is coming slowly but surely.  The government provides a lot of support, like free wifi throughout the village.  These days also, when the Bunun people remember the Japanese era, not all is completely negative, they say they are grateful for the infrastructure, education facilities and benefits provided by the government.  But still, it must have been terrible at the time.  Recent development projects are in 3 main areas: leading and supporting mountain-climbing expeditions – training and licensing as mountain guides and high-altitude porters, providing guest house accommodation for mountain expeditions and for weekend visitors / ecotourism (like us!) and thirdly the development of high-altitude agricultural projects, particularly fruit and vegetables.  Ah yes, and coffee too…

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This was not the first time I had stayed in Wang Hsiang. Last year at this time, on the night before our ascent of Yushan, we also stayed in Wang Hsiang.  This time, we stayed in a different guest house and had a tour of the village with one of the local guides.  This time also, the personal connection was that Sheng-Feng (Simon) and Hsuan-Ying (Grace), one of our choir couples (who had also invited me to join their trip to visit Grace’s home village at Nantian, Taitung earlier this month – see that post here) are old friends of the pastor and his family – actually they had been student members of a fellowship group that he led in Taichung many years ago.  That personal connection made all the difference, and we enjoyed hearing their stories and sharing time together in the guest house…

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The food was amazing.  Loved it all!  Delicious, completely so!  The bamboo tubes are a traditional dish – filled with sticky rice. The lemon slices are flavored with – guess what?  That dark stuff is coffee granules.  Really special!  And then we sang…

On our tour of the village, we learned that it consists of 4 streets, all leading off to the left of the main road.  The walls of all the houses and gardens have mosaic / stone patterns showing aspects of Bunun daily life.  Each house – and corner – has a notice explaining about each place.  Really amazing.  In some places, millet, the staple food was lying out in the sun drying….

We finished our tour with a group photo at the village sign at the entrance to the village…

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Early on Sunday morning, some of us climbed up the hill behind the village.  Bit foggy, but by the time we got back the mist had cleared and the view toward Yushan was beautiful. Yushan is the pointed peak in the far distance.

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One of our group had a drone – this is us!

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And so to church.  First to the rehearsal – our choir are dedicated!  Our music conductor on the retreat was Shiao Chien, she has a real gift of enthusing everyone with a love of singing and music, and always chooses really suitable songs to sing.  She had also asked everyone to wear one (any one!) of the Advent Church T-shirts, of which we have many,  going back years, hence all the bright colours.

Also at the church were a group of young ABC (American-born Chinese) whose families are originally from Taiwan, they are here for a few weeks in the summer as part of a project to help Wang Hsiang children learn English.  They also sang a song, and the church provided lunch for us visitors after the service.  Ah, it was so delicious!

A big ‘Thank You’ to Advent Church Choir for their kind invitation and welcome to me to join their trip.  Thanks to Paul and Christina for driving me there and back – and all the way home.  It was all a wonderful adventure.  The choir all love singing and having fun ~ a great combination!

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Thanks too to the pastor and people of Wang Hsiang Village, for their hard work and time to make us so welcome.  And thanks be to God for safe travels, beautiful views, delicious food, new experiences, fresh mountain air, and of course, friends, fellowship and fun!

Chiang Kai-Shek Official Residence 士林官邸 & Martyrs Shrine 忠烈祠 @ Shilin, Taipei

Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS), ‘leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in exile in Taiwan’, arrived in Taiwan in 1949 with his wife, Soong Mei-Ling.  A year later, they moved into their new home, the Shilin Official Residence 士林官邸 and stayed there until Chiang Kai-Shek’s death in 1975.  Visitors were many and famous, including then US Vice-President Nixon in 1953, and President Eisenhower in 1960. This is the building today….

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During the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945), the building was the location of the Shilin Horticultural Experimental Station, and surrounded, of course, by beautiful gardens.  These days, house, chapel, pavilions and garden are all open to the public.  The gardens are free, the house costs NT$ 100 entrance fee for ‘general visitors’ (that’s most of us), and a free audio tour is available in English and other languages.  No cameras or cellphones are allowed inside the house, so I have no photos of the inside, sorry about that.  Just use your imagination…

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The gardens are popular with many local people and visitors.  Deservedly so.  The flowers and shrubs – especially the rose gardens – are beautiful, all well-maintained and with lots of colour.  There are workers everywhere tending to the plants.  As a result, I think the gardens are much better than even the botanical gardens in Taipei. Check out these photos..

The house is also popular with tourists.  Lots of them, and mostly from overseas.  I went to visit the house for the first time today, a little reluctantly I admit.  Chiang Kai-Shek is nowhere near as popular these days as he used to be – as more and more of the truth of what really happened under his rule is brought to light.  But then every country has its own terrible secrets, and the UK is no exception.  So I tried to go with an open mind to learn…

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Firstly, the house, as a house, is really lovely, and each room is decorated and furnished beautifully in a mixture of Chinese and western styles.  And with no cellphones and cameras allowed, the atmosphere is like a real museum.  It’s a serious place.  Many of Taiwan’s historical places, in an effort to attract tourists, have brought in tons of touristy things to do, which many would say lowers the tone considerably.  Shilin Official Residence shows how it can be done properly.  The audio tour though is due for a remake.  It’s similar in style to the CKS Memorial in Taipei, full of how wonderful the Chiangs were, presenting their daily life as idyllic, and their relationship as perfect.  Intriguingly, their Christian faith is central to the presentation.  Chiang Kai-Shek had a large picture of Jesus in his room and the story of how he became a Christian (through his wife and her parents) and the couple’s daily prayer and Bible reading habits are well-explained on the audio tape.  His faith, of course, only adds complexity to the whole paradox of his life and actions, but that is for thought and discussion another time, another place.  There’s also a chapel in the grounds where the couple and their visitors attended Sunday services.

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And there’s a grand piano, made of plants…

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And it just wouldn’t be the same without any mascots of any kind, so at the back of the gift shop near the main entrance to the gardens, are Chiang Kai-Shek Teddy and Soong Mei-Ling Teddy, ready for your photos…

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Oh yes, and Soong Mei-Ling’s Cadillac, with an interesting number plate (Chiang Kai-Shek’s own cars and all his official possessions are at the CKS Memorial in Taipei)…

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From the Official Residence, going around Jiantan Mountain, it is not far to the Grand Hotel, also built by Chiang Kai-Shek, and not far from there is the Martyrs Shrine – officially known as the ‘National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine‘ 國民革命忠烈祠, also built under the orders of Chiang Kai-Shek, and dedicated to the war dead of the Republic of China…

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I’ve passed by this place many times, but today was my first visit.  And the main reason for going to the Martyrs Shrine is to see the Changing of the Guard, which happens every hour on the hour throughout the day (can also be seen at the CKS Memorial and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei)…

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I was there for the 12 noon ceremony, the hottest time of the day and just before the rain came down – got there as the tourists were just arriving…

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The guards stand completely still and swelter for a whole hour in their uniforms, while their assistants mop their sweaty brows and generally keep them from keeling over in the heat.  There are 2 guards at the main entrance, and 2 more up at the entrance to the actual shrine.

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The Changing of the Guards Ceremony involves 5 of them marching up to the shrine, changing the 2 guards up there, then they march back again and change the 2 at the front, and perform at both places.

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Amazing choreography.  Worth it for that alone.

Due to an incident at CKS Memorial a few days ago, when protesters threw red paint on the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek (see that news report here) the actual shrine was closed to visitors today.  All the other buildings in the compound were closed too, like this one….

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And probably will be for some time to come.  So we watched from afar – along with at least 3 coachloads of tourists, mostly from the USA, who arrived for the Changing of the Guard just as it was starting and left immediately it finished.  This was taken after they’d all gone. Quiet once again…

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Just before the rain came down…

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So, do go to visit both places with an open mind – in order to learn something of the recent history of Taiwan and the Republic of China.   No country’s history is devoid of war and conflict, and Taiwan has plenty of both, much untold and unresolved.  It’s well on its way in trying to bring to light events of the past, but progress is slow, protesters are restless, and many are the struggles and stumbling blocks in the road ahead.

Yes to God, Yes to Mission, Yes to Taiwan!