A sombre, sober and subdued Lunar New Year for all of Taiwan. It started with the deadly 6.4 earthquake early on Saturday February 6 in southern Taiwan, which led to the collapse of a number of high-rise buildings in Tainan, including the 17-storey Weiguan Jinlong apartment complex, where over 100 were killed. Electricity and water outages made the New Year even worse for many, and as High-Speed Rail services were cancelled in southern Taiwan, many people were forced to change their travel plans.
TV and Newspaper reports kept us all focused on the emerging nightmare….
Tragedy after tragedy – as bodies were pulled from the rubble, despair after despair – for those who had survived but with their loved ones missing. Many moving stories – of those trapped, and those who had survived against the odds. The search and rescue crews were heroes, sacrificing their New Year celebrations to work around the clock to get everyone out. The Red Cross and other relief organizations, including churches, provided support and help. The damage was intense in those areas where the fallen buildings lay, but thankfully there was not widespread devastation over the whole city and the relief effort was well-managed and organized. By last night, the final day of the holiday, everyone in the 17-storey complex had been accounted for, and the collapsed buildings had been leveled.
The earthquake was a constant conversation topic throughout the whole week. The tragedy was foremost on people’s minds. TV New Year programs were toned down, social media posts more sombre than usual, the atmosphere everywhere subdued and respectful.
In complete contrast – and complete surprise – was the Chinese New Year weather. After months and months of seemingly non-stop rain and freezing cold, with temperatures in Taipei the lowest for over 40 years, suddenly the weather cleared up, and we had a whole week of hot sunny weather, with temperatures in Taipei up to 28ºC on Saturday. Chinese New Year in northern Taiwan is usually marked by cold, wet, totally miserable weather. But this year it was absolutely wonderful!
Chinese New Year is all about family reunions, and the main gathering is always on the evening of New Year’s Eve, which was Sunday February 7. My good friends, Rev. and Mrs. Hsu, just down the road in Shuang-Lien Elderly Care Centre, kindly invited me to join the celebration meal at the centre, with over 100 tables spread for the residents and their families. The 3 Hsu children, Victor, Anne and Alice had all come back from overseas, and Alice had come from Mauritius with her husband, Bishop Roger and their son, Alexander. Mrs. Hsu’s sister also joined us. Yes, all my good friends ~ it was so great to see them all again! Then on the second day of the New Year, which was Tuesday, the tradition is to go to visit the girl’s side of the family, so Mrs. Hsu invited me again, this time for lunch with the family and some friends, also at the care centre.
Yummy yummy yummy!
And then a whole week off! With such glorious weather, everyone took to the roads and trains in big numbers, for days of sightseeing, eating, and visiting family and friends. Mahjong is a big Chinese New Year pastime, but with such wonderful weather this year, who could resist a day at the beach or up in the mountains, looking at the newly-opened cherry blossom?
And so. Me too!
On Monday off I went to climb Elephant Mountain 象山, Four Beasts Mountain 四獸山, and the top one, 9-5 Peak Jiuwufeng 九五峯, all located at the far end of the MRT line from Tamsui, over beyond Taipei 101. Amazing views, and being the first day of the New Year, there were not many people – at least until the afternoon, when the crowds came out, everyone in their new clothes and shoes, some even in high heels lol!
Also a quick visit to Taipei 101, looking very festive with all the red lanterns….
This was all but preparation, in fact, for the big climb of the week, on Wednesday, to Yang-Ming Shan 陽明山 Mountains. 11 hours of walking, from Sanzhi 三芝 up to Mian-Tian Shan 面天山, then Datun Shan 大屯山 and Qixing Shan 七星山, and down to Leng-Shui Keng 冷水坑 for the bus home. The first time I’ve ever done the walk up and 3 mountains as well, but it was well worth it, the views were fantastic, and it was warm but not too hot. The next day I visited one of our beloved church members in hospital in Taipei, and the final photo is the view of Yang-Ming Shan Mountains from the hospital ward, and what a view!
And so to Friday, and a nice gentle amble, along with zillions of others, around Yehliu 野柳, an hour on the bus from here along the coast eastwards. Yehliu in summer is boiling hot with no shade, and in winter it’s always cold and wet, so a rare sunny warm day, and Yehliu is the place to go for a bit of fresh sea air, stunning rock formations, a small hill to climb, and a few hours well spent! Met families from Guang-Dong, Philippines, Canada and Taiwan also escaping the crowds….
And then on Friday afternoon, my good friend, A-guan and 2 of her children suddenly decided to come – from St. James’ Church, Taichung. Always a fun and lively time! First stop, the beach at Bai-sha-wan to paddle and see the sunset…
Next stop, on Saturday morning, the National Palace Museum. A-Guan’s daughter’s first ever visit, and she wanted to go. There were about as many people as at Yehliu the day before, it was packed out! Y’know, walking round that museum is totally exhausting. Walking 11 hours up and around Yang-Ming Shan is fine. But 1-2 hours in a museum, and we were shattered. Had to sit in the park and drink coffee to recover. But we did see the Pope’s red shoes. As well as all the usual things on display, there’s also a display of things from the Vatican. Kinda bizarre to see such ornate vestments and altar frontals next to all the ancient Chinese artifacts. And those red shoes are something else!
And finally, one of the highlights of Chinese New Year is always the cherry blossom, which is coming out at lower altitudes ~ spotting the pink trees is always fun….
And then on Sunday, yesterday, the fine weather finally broke. The end. A cold front came, the rain and wind returned, and winter came back with a vengeance. Then A-guan’s car broke down, and instead of returning home yesterday, ready for work today, they are still here. Experiencing Sanzhi cold and rain, drinking tea to keep warm!
Today is the first day of school for Taiwan’s children after the holidays. St. John’s University has an extra day off, we start work tomorrow, and the new semester starts on Thursday.
Looking back over this past week, and Chinese New Year 2016 will always be a New Year to remember. Such unusually good weather, a time to celebrate and enjoy the arrival of spring and the beauty of the countryside, for many to relax in the company of family and friends. But also a week to remember, grieve and pray for the victims of the earthquake in Tainan. So many have lost so much. So many face an uncertain future. So many worry in case their own homes are now at risk in future earthquakes. The investigations into the construction companies behind the collapsed buildings are only just beginning.
Ash Wednesday came in the middle of Chinese New Year week. Lent has started. A time of reflection, fasting and prayer. We pray in earnest, for those suffering, the injured, the orphaned children, those who have lost their entire families, those whose homes, livelihoods and loved ones are gone. We thank God for his mercy, and ask for your continued prayers for all those affected by the tragedy in southern Taiwan.