Meanwhile in Taipei…. Banksy Exhibition @ Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

The world is in the middle of a devastating pandemic, the USA has had a terrible week with riots in the Capitol, the UK is in chaos with Brexit and lockdown. And meanwhile, in Taipei…..

A Banksy Exhibition has just opened at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. From Wikipedia, Banksy is an “pseudonymous England-based street artist, political activist, and film director, active since the 1990s. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have appeared on streets, walls, and bridges throughout the world.”

This is only the second Banksy Exhibition to be held in Taiwan, the first one was held in a Taipei shopping mall in March 2019, organized by Phillips Auction House. It consisted of 25 of Banksy’s pieces arranged in a small gallery and as there was free entry, so lots of people – and especially young people went to visit.

This new exhibition, which runs until April 5, is much bigger, with 60 artworks on display, and with an introduction attached to each one, written originally in Chinese and translated (sometimes not too well, it has to be said) into English. Some are enlarged photos of the original work in situ, others are displayed in settings designed to look similar to the original, and still others show ways in which the original work has been adapted for use on record covers, posters etc. It’s all artistically laid out and the displays are professional and sleek. But it comes at a price, unfortunately, and the entrance ticket is steep, NT$ 350, so not surprisingly far fewer people seem to be visiting. And despite Banksy’s own disdain for gift shops, there is of course a real ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ experience for those with lots of money and a desire to buy something with the ‘I love Banksy’ logo….

Much as I admire Banksy’s work, I cannot subscribe to the ‘I Love Banksy’ logos, mugs and T-shirts etc etc. Much of his work is completely unlovable, and that is surely part of his intention. His aim is not for us to love him or even like him – or his art works. Instead he wants to challenge, convict and change our thinking – and of course that of the establishment too – and then act accordingly. His themes are mostly political and social, against war, authoritarianism, greed, poverty, hypocrisy, despair, power….

The exhibition is hardly beautiful or a pleasure to the eyes, but it’s not intended to be that way. Banksy’s works originated mostly as street art, and really they belong on the streets, not in an exhibition in a country and culture far away from their original setting. Much of the information around each piece goes into explaining why such a piece might be necessary in the first place, meaning the context and background. While some political and social themes are common worldwide, such as war and poverty, others are much more localized, eg supermarket giants like Tesco taking over UK high streets. Such art is thought-provoking, yes, but pretty, no.

Which brings me to the real reason why I was intrigued by this exhibition. It’s not the content as such. Or the artistic layouts and displays. And certainly not the commercialism of the brand name. It’s the setting itself. The exhibition is being held in the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, in downtown Taipei. If you’ve ever visited Taiwan, you may well have been there to view the honor guard performances that take place every hour on the hour in front of that huge bronze statue of Chiang Kai-Shek on the top floor.

Quoting from Wikipedia, Chiang Kai-shek (1887 –1975) was a “Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death….. In 1949 Chiang’s government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics during the White Terror. Presiding over a period of social reforms and economic prosperity, Chiang won five elections to six-year terms as President of the Republic of China and was Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975, three years into his fifth term as President and just one year before Mao’s death.

One of the longest-serving non-royal heads of state in the 20th century, Chiang was the longest-serving non-royal ruler of China having held the post for 46 years. Like Mao, he is regarded as a controversial figure. Supporters credit him with playing a major part in unifying the nation and leading the Chinese resistance against Japan, as well as with countering Soviet-communist encroachment. Detractors and critics denounce him as a dictator at the front of an authoritarian regime who suppressed opponents”.

So now, 40 years after the CKS Memorial was built, here we are in 2021, no longer with a Kuomintang government; instead President Tsai Ing-Wen and the Democratic Progressive Party are in power. They are doing much to uncover the truth of the White Terror era, and working for transitional justice and reconciliation. Controversy surrounds what to do with the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Building, with that huge bronze statue upstairs, while downstairs there is a large permanent exhibition showing photos and artifacts with labels praising every aspect of Chiang’s life. Outside on the Freedom Plaza are where all sorts of protests and gatherings take place. The government is now trying to transform the hall into a national center for “facing history, recognizing agony, and respecting human rights” and there have been several exhibitions held that are critical of Mainland China, in earlier days some also critical of Chiang Kai-Shek himself. Also on display, mixed up among all this politics, and in a bid to attract visitors – especially families, is a whole host of weird and wonderful alternative displays, ranging from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to a massive set of 3D paintings…

And now, ironically, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is hosting an exhibition of artwork by Banksy, exactly the kind of political activist that authoritarian leaders – like Chiang Kai-Shek – always detest so much. If Banksy were really here in person, the CKS Memorial Hall may be the kind of place he’d start with for some of his protest art, stenciling up a picture long after dark. After all, what the building represents is way more than just a memorial to a fallen leader. It’s ironic really on so many levels, that instead of undercover street graffiti done in the dead of night, Banksy’s artwork has gained pride of place in one of the exhibition halls of the actual building, with a huge price tag to go in. Such is life in modern consumer society. In so doing, his subversive street art has become almost mainstream. A dark irony too, as sadly, mainstream art often loses its purpose somewhat of being a voice to challenge, convict – and change.

Of course, this could be purely a financial arrangement between the company who are curating the exhibition – and the CKS Memorial Hall, and maybe it’s just pure chance that the Banksy Exhibition happens to be showing there, rather than anywhere else – in that they had a free space at the right time and right price.

But then again maybe not. Almost certainly the government would have to give permission for what is shown at the CKS Memorial. Maybe the government is showing the world again that free speech and peaceful protest are marks of a well-developed democratic society, and that there’s nothing to fear from those who challenge us to turn from war and hatred ~ and instead to strive for justice and peace in this often dark world.

In the context of praying for a peaceful transition of power in the USA, and for God’s mercy for all those affected by Covid-19, lockdown and Brexit, then the above picture is appropriate. This is Banksy’s work, usually referred to as ‘Girl with Balloon’, but its actual title is ‘There is Always Hope‘. I like that. Think about it as you look at the picture. Ultimately, what it means for you, of course, is up to you to decide for yourself. That’s art. ❤️

Advent Church & St. John’s University Charity Fundraising 2020 @ 天主教福利會 ‘Cathwel Service’, Shenkeng 深坑, Taipei

Cathwel Service (Cath-wel is short for Catholic Welfare) 財團法人天主教福利會, is the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services, founded in 1949, originally to help unmarried mothers and their children. It continues its ministry helping disadvantaged women and children; many of the children have special needs, others have various disabilities. Some will be adopted by families in Taiwan, some by families overseas (you’ll find lots of info about their experiences of international adoption via google), others will remain at the centre until they reach adulthood. Currently there are about 40 children living at the centre, called Jonah House – with different age children on different floors. We visited yesterday, and saw some of the youngest children, and met some of the staff. All the other children attend local schools during the day. Despite the cold temperatures and rain outside, everyone there was so warm and friendly!

Our visit came as a result of our Christmas 2020 Charity Fundraising Events at St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church, which raised a total of almost NT$ 250,000 for the charity (see the previous post for details of our charity bazaar). Thanks be to God ~ and to everyone who contributed!

We visited as a group of 8, representing both SJU and Advent Church. We were also able to collect the official receipts, which will be distributed to all those who made a donation, so that they can file their tax returns. The Cathwel Service CEO, Ms. Yen-Chi Ting, presented an official Certificate of Thanks in the chapel, first to our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and then to Mr. Ming-Chuan Chen, our Advent Church senior warden.

And us altogether…

The chapel is stunning! It is in the basement area of the building along with the carpark, but it is below an open area above. I gather it used to be a fairly traditional RC chapel until it needed renovation due to a badly leaking roof last year.

Fr. Fabrizio Tosolini (杜敬一神父) is an Italian RC priest who has taught the Bible for many years at Fu-Jen RC Seminary, Taipei. Many of our clergy have also studied there under him, including our SJU chaplain, Rev. Wu, so he was able to describe to us the meaning of each picture. Fr. Tosolini is a member of the Missionary Order of Saint Francis Xavier and also a very gifted artist. He painted the pictures that decorate the newly-renovated chapel, which was completed and opened only last month, December 2020.

The picture above the altar is of Jesus, his mother and his disciple, John. The writing on the 2 long red pieces of paper was done by the children. On the left, words of Jesus: ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you because you have revealed the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven to little children’, and on the right it says, ‘If you fall in love, stay in love’ (from the Arrupe Prayer, attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, which starts ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God’, and is also very popular as a song).

On the right-side wall, there is a line of 14 small paintings, serving as the Stations of the Cross…. check out the eyes!

On the left wall and at the main entrance are other paintings, mostly much larger…..

This organization is based in Shenkeng 深坑, on the SE edge of Taipei, an old coal-mining town on the edge of the mountains. They have a large building right on the main road in front of Shenkeng Old Street. This is the mosaic version!

Shenkeng Old Street is famous for its stinky tofu and every other kind of tofu. This is it!

After our visit to the centre, we just had to visit the Old Street for some of the famous tofu, plus other dishes ~ kindly hosted by Ming-Chuan and his wife…. It was all delicious!

This is the Old Street, with hardly any people. At the weekend, it’s full, but even so, with the pandemic, there are no international tourists. We all agreed it was a much nicer Old Street than our local one in Tamsui!

It was, and is very cold, and it’s been raining and cold for days. A massive cold front has swept in and frozen us all up! “6°C, feels like -1°C” said my phone yesterday morning. This is not a country that does ‘cold’ very well. We have no central heating, everything is built to keep us cool not warm! Everyone is wearing a ton of layers, inside and outside – temperatures inside and outside are more or less the same. Our houses, offices, schools and lifestyle are much more suited to summer than winter – Taiwan is on the Tropic of Cancer, after all. But a few years ago, we did have snow on Taipei’s Yangmingshan Mountains, and the news yesterday morning said that 5 cm of snow had fallen up there overnight. However, the mountains were hidden from our view – in swirling clouds and rain all day. Until that it is about 4:30 pm, after we had got back from Shenkeng, when the clouds cleared ~ and yes, in the far distance we could see a sprinkling of white snow! We all rushed out and up to the 3rd floor of St. John’s University to take photos. Such excitement!

Update, Saturday – and the snow has stayed throughout last night and today. Those mountains have looked the same all day today. We’re all excited about the snow, but everyone is freezing cold!

Enough excitement for one weekend. Stay warm everyone, and thanks as always for your continuing support!

Advent & Christmas 2020 🎄🕯️🎅🦌🎁⛄🌟⛪🔔🤶🎶👼

December 2020 flashed past in a whirl of activities, but when I read last year’s blog post of Advent & Christmas 2019, this year seems so quiet in comparison. December 2019 was jam-packed full! This year things were quieter, partly because of the pandemic ~ so there were less large activities and fewer parties, no visitors and less travel, but also because St. John’s University (SJU) has been downsizing, so there’s far fewer faculty, staff and students – and, let’s face it, far less money to spend or donate. Many of our local businesses are suffering too from our downsizing, and people are being more careful with their money. With non-stop rain, strong winds and cold temps in this area of Taiwan for most of December, it’s the time of the year when everyone needs a bit of Christmas cheer ~ and here we are at the SJU main entrance wishing the guard a Merry Christmas! 🎅🎅

Covid-19 update: Since an isolated locally-transmitted Covid-19 case a few days ago (traced to a pilot who didn’t follow quarantine rules and then wouldn’t reveal his movements and contacts; he’s since been fired and fined), the Taiwan government has further tightened restrictions. With the UK Covid variant spreading around the world, there is high alert and extra restrictions on people coming from the UK. This includes them all being quarantined in government facilities for 14 days on arrival, rather than in registered quarantine hotels of their own choice, and each one having to test negative before being released from quarantine. Flights to and from the UK will be cancelled altogether from January until the situation improves ~ and in the last few days, the Taiwan Post Office has also announced the temporary suspension of all postal services to the UK. Some of our churches have cancelled parties and celebrations, others continue on. Ours mostly continue on, and school and work continues as normal, which means we’re all still here – in our offices and classrooms. No break for Christmas, but we do have January 1 off, and then we’ll have about 3 more weeks of term until the Chinese New Year holidays start.

These are a few highlights of our activities here at SJU and Advent Church this past month, starting with lighting candles on the Advent Wreath each week in each of SJU main offices. Bishop Chang also came with us one week. The above photo is SJU President Huang lighting the Advent candles for Week 2 ~ and in our offices below….

A few days before Christmas, we went out around the campus and across the road to the shops to share the good news of Christmas with our neighbours…

We did a similar thing at church member’s homes, and at 8:00 am on Christmas Day morning, we went to share the good news of Christmas and to give out small gifts to the children at Xian-Xiao, our neighboring junior high school. They are so lovely!

Every year during Advent, the church and university combine to raise money for charity, and despite the economic downturn due to the pandemic as well as the downsizing of SJU, this year we decided to continue the tradition, and chose ‘Cathwel Service’ (‘Cathwel’ is short for ‘Catholic Welfare’) 財團法人天主教福利會, the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services. They came to give a talk about their work, which is mainly to provide care and help for disabled children, disadvantaged women and their children, and all those who struggle to take care of their families; they are one of the few organizations in Taiwan legally registered to arrange adoptions, both in Taiwan and overseas. For our fundraising, mostly we rely on individual direct donations, but for our students, they give their time and energy to help run a large bazaar. This involves collecting and selling second-hand goods, as well as making and selling lots of food, helped by church members and SJU staff, organized by the SJU Chaplaincy. The event was held on December 16, and Bishop Chang and his wife came along too. Ah, it was fun!

This year our aim was to raise NT$ 200,000, and thanks be to God, the total amount raised was about NT$ 250,000. We will be visiting the charity centre in Taipei for a formal presentation on January 8, so watch this space for photos! (It turned out to be a big day with lots of photos taken, so the next blog post is dedicated to the visit). This is the presentation!

As Christmas is not a national holiday, so we hold our main (or only) service in the evening of Christmas Eve. The congregation who come along is always affected by what day of the week it falls on. This year, Christmas Eve was on a weekday so our students could be there, but many church members were working, so unable to come. Some of our former students return every year for this service, it’s great! The service was beautiful, all candlelit at the start as we sang ‘Silent Night’ ~ very moving.

St. John’s Day was marked on Monday December 28 this year, and we had a service for about 60 people, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Advent Church. At the end of the service, there was a presentation of 2 cheques, firstly a cheque for NT$ 100,000 presented on behalf of Advent Church by Ms. Marge Tan to SJU President Huang to cover the cost of repairs, maintenance, utilities and cleaning of the church during this year. The other cheque, for NT$ 4,366,705, was presented by Bishop Chang to SJU President Huang on behalf of the diocese. In August, at our diocesan convention, Bishop Chang had shared his vision, that with the many problems facing SJU of seriously falling student numbers and therefore a large financial shortfall, it would be inappropriate for Advent Church to put on an expensive and elaborate 50th anniversary celebration. Instead we would raise money to donate to SJU in thanksgiving and to show our love and support. Most of this money was collected from individual donations made to the diocese, and it also includes a donation of NT$ 515,429 from a annual trust fund of The Episcopal Church for the SJU Library. The original aim was to raise a grand total of NT$ 500,000, but that has been vastly exceeded, thanks be to God ~ and to all those who have donated!

We were honoured that so many clergy, church members and representatives of SJU were able to be at the service, including clergy who came especially for the occasion from Hualien and Kaohsiung. At the end of the service we had lunchboxes, supplied by a restaurant run by one of our church members. Simple but delicious!

We had plenty more activities in Advent, far too many to mention here, but I will finish with photos of a happy day I spent at Xingren Elementary School 興仁國小, on December 18, where I told the story of Santa Claus / St. Nicholas, set in Turkey in the year 300 AD. The older children, grades 3-6, recycled the pictures of my old Christmas cards, sent in past years mostly from the UK, to make pop-up cards of their own. The younger children made Christmas tree pictures with stickers and the letters of Merry Christmas. These photos below are all downloaded from the school facebook page – if you’ve sent me a Christmas card in the past few years, then know that it was put to good use. Thank you!

Thank you all for your Christmas wishes for 2020, and your prayers and support throughout the past year. Here’s to the New Year 2021, stay safe and well, and wishing you all a blessed and peaceful year ahead! 🥂

Stop Press: Just announced today is the news that from January 1, 2021, our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu will also become rector of Advent Church, serving in both roles. Please do pray for him, it is a big responsibility!

Advent Word 2020, Day 26 ‘Proclaim’

#AdventWord #Proclaim

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

This Advent season is a good moment to pause and listen to Mary’s proclamation. Do we sometimes think we are insignificant? Listen to Mary’s affirmation that God is deeply interested in us. Do we wonder what we should be doing with our lives? Listen to Mary’s words as she explains what God wants to do with this world of ours.

Then we need to be ready to proclaim this good news to others. Although Christmas can be a moment of joy, many people are missing someone they love, struggling to make ends meet, and afraid about the future. The invitation from Mary is to see oneself as a person connected with God—a God that seeks to use us to further a future that is different and hopeful.

Advent Church, Christmas Eve 2020.

Advent is over for another year, and so are these #AdventWord meditations, along with my photos of events in Taiwan in 2020. It has not been an easy year for the world. Many are suffering. Taiwan continues to do well in handling the pandemic, although the long run of 253 consecutive days of no local transmission ended a few days ago with one case, traced to a infected pilot who has caused much worry for the country ~ and has since been fired for his dishonesty in neither revealing his contacts nor his travel details. As it is, we are grateful that our Christmas continues as ‘normal’, which for Taiwan means work and school; we have no Christmas holiday or time off. Y’know, it’s actually good, there are so many opportunities for outreach, and many of our students and former students came to our Christmas Eve Service this evening ~ and stayed for the delicious refreshments afterwards. Tomorrow’s main event for Christmas Day will be at 7:30 am when we all gather to go to our neighbouring junior-high school to wish all the children and staff a Merry Christmas. 🎅⛄ 🎄

Thank you all for your Christmas cards and messages. I didn’t really send any Christmas cards this year ~ please accept this as my Christmas greetings for 2020. I am very grateful to you all for your support and prayers this past year, Wishing you all joy and peace this Christmas time!🎄🎄

Advent Word 2020, Day 25 ‘Holy’

#AdventWord #Holy

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

Mary sang in praise of God:
And holy is his Name.
Gracious God, what is our song,
Now in this time of weeping?
In our night of pain and grief,
Faithful voices rise toward starry skies:
In you, O Holy One, we put our trust.
Can we find once more your promise of mercy?
A new light shines in the darkness –
Together, we wait and rejoice.

The Nativity Scene here at Advent Church, Tamsui, Taipei

Advent Word 2020, Day 24 ‘Wisdom’

#AdventWord #Wisdom

The wisest path is to surrender to the will of the “only wise God” when it is revealed to us. Mary was confused by her encounter with the angel Gabriel but wisely said, “Here am I” nevertheless. Indeed, having wisdom does not mean having all of the answers. Wisdom resides in actively waiting for the word of God to come to us at the appointed time. It involves trusting enough in God’s provision that we can say “yes” to God’s call.

Full of wisdom, compassion, energy and fun ~ this is our very lovable Herbert, now at the distinguished age of 78, celebrating his 10th anniversary as priest-in-charge of the Good Shepherd English Congregation, Taipei on November 22, 2020. He spoke of having saved the best till last, meaning of all the churches and ministries he’s served in over the last 50+ years, this one is the one he loves the best ~ so here’s to the next 10 years, Herb!

Advent Word 2020, Day 23 ‘Mystery’

#AdventWord #Mystery

“Listen,” the Apostle Paul whispers, “I will tell you a mystery. We will not all die, but we will be changed in the twinkling of an eye…” (1 Cor 15:51-52 para). I look into the night sky. I find a star gazing back at me, and I let it be the star over Bethlehem that instantaneously called humanity’s attention to the unveiling of God’s love for all people… made known through the birth of Jesus. The mystery remains true: collapses and risings fill the patterns of our common life, still, we yearn for God’s love-filled light in the darkness. It transforms us, as God never puts an end to anything that God loves.

The Mystery Photo of the Year! This is the Bishop of Wyoming, John Smylie on February 22, 2020 – he came to Taiwan for Bishop Chang’s consecration. The photo is taken in the meeting room at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei before the service started. The 2 girls are members of St. John’s Cathedral Youth Fellowship who volunteered to help welcome the international visitors. But until now (and I confirmed this with them yesterday!) neither of the girls can remember what they were talking about in this conversation, nor the reason for the wonderful expressions on their faces!

Advent Word 2020, Day 22 ‘Rejoice’

#AdventWord #Rejoice

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary offers two definitions for the word ‘rejoice’. We mostly live in the first one: to feel joy or great delight. But it also offers another definition for rejoice that we don’t often consider. Rejoice can also mean to give joy to, to gladden. In this use, it’s a transitive verb. What that means is that the verb has a direct object. It seems to me that this is the definition Jesus embodies. He comes to be among us, born in a lowly stable, to give joy to us. To gladden our hearts. To be love incarnate, love made flesh. We are the object of his gift of joy.

This is us, rejoicing that we’ve made it to the summit of Xiaobajianshan 小霸尖山: 3,418 m / 11,214 ft, July 23, 2020. And the weather was perfect!

Advent Word 2020, Day 21 ‘Turn’

#AdventWord #Turn

Imagine a flat plane holding all of creation, and at the center of all things, the radiance of God, alighting on all things, beholding all things, knowing all things. We, too, are on the plane, working to keep our eyes fixed on this center, drawing closer to the Source and each other with every step. But so often – all the time! – we take our eyes from God; we become distracted, we fall back, we get bored and settle for selfish desires, innumerable idolatries, and participation in systems that draw us further from God and each other. Now is our time to TURN back to God, preparing our hearts and fixing our eyes on the Holy One.

The turn of the year is coming soon ~ this was us at Grace Church, Tainan with Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, Rev. Samuel Liao and the congregation celebrating Chinese New Year on January 26, 2020 ~ the year of the rat. On February 12, 2021, we’ll be celebrating Chinese New Year ~ and the arrival of the year of the ox. Lots of family reunions being planned, and as nobody will be traveling overseas due to the pandemic, so the scenic spots, hotels, roads and shops will be even more crowded than usual. In the photo, everyone’s turned out in their new clothes, holding their red envelopes! Yes, red is the colour for Chinese New Year!

Advent Word 2020, Day 20 ‘Bless’ 💃🕺

#AdventWord #Bless

To BLESS is the act of honoring the divine in the other. Sometimes it is as simple as yielding our place in line to someone at the grocery store. Other times it takes a more sacramental approach. When blessing others, in the everyday or in the sacramental, the blessing is sacrificial and unconditional. During trying times, we must not lose sight of what it means to give ourselves a blessing. When blessing ourselves we practice self-compassion and self-forgiveness, and we find the imago dei within our own identity. For this is what fills the cups that we use to bless others.

Being a blessing to others: kindergarten teachers to the rescue! When the call comes to provide some entertainment on the spur of the moment – for the international audience of bishops and VIP guests on the evening of Bishop Chang’s consecration – then here comes our really wonderful Hannah (wife of Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang and a former kindergarten teacher) leading all the men in singing a children’s action song, February 22, 2020. 💃🕺 Believe me, kindergarten teachers are just so worth their weight in gold!

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