Chinese New Year 2018!

Ah yes, and as with every Chinese New Year, food featured highly!  Food, food and more delicious food.  YUMMY!  For most people, the New Year celebrations revolve around family reunions, gatherings with old friends, temple visits to pray for blessings for the new year, preparing food offerings and worship at the family ancestor shrine, and of course the enjoyment of meals and delicacies of every kind.  Many people also take the chance to travel, but just as many people say they can’t face the traffic jams and prefer to stay home.  Meanwhile those in the tourism and transport business work from morning to night, making the most of the opportunities ~ or just busy, busy, busy, after all it’s high season.  And red is the colour to be seen everywhere, whether in decorations in homes, hotels and businesses, or in the new clothes that everyone wears, or in the red envelopes that are given or received in every home.  Ah, red, a great colour!  In Chinese tradition it symbolizes blessing, good fortune, happiness.  Yes, I love red!

Of course, we were all too well aware of the tragedy of the recent earthquake disaster in Hualien, and of those who were killed, injured, bereaved, made homeless or with damaged homes and businesses.  Hualien is a major tourist destination for Taiwan people at Chinese New Year, and even though local government leaders and those involved in the tourism industry wanted people to continue with their travel plans where possible, in fact many cancelled.  This had a knock-on effect for the whole of the east coast, and Taitung too was relatively free of people, and therefore also cars, which meant less traffic jams.

The most important meal of Chinese New Year is that of Chinese New Year’s Eve, when the whole family gathers together, and sons and their families return to the family home.  I’d been at St. James’ Church, Taichung all the past week, and my good friends there, the very lovely and welcoming Wang family kindly invited me to their home for the New Year’s Eve meal, where mother, father and 2 daughters were busy preparing all kinds of goodies ~ home-made everything!  All very very delicious and very beautifully served.  Thank you!

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On Chinese New Year’s Day, last Friday, we set off from Taichung heading south.  ‘We’ is my good friend, Ah-Guan and her daughter, Yaling.  Ah-Guan had kindly organized everything, she is really great fun for traveling with!  We were heading for Tainan.  First stop was Chiayi County, Budai Township 布袋 to see the High-Heeled Wedding Church. This is quite some landmark.  ‘Church’ it is not.  Or maybe it is.  Cross, there isn’t.  And no services planned.  It is actually a photo-shoot location for couples taking their wedding photos, as is the tradition in Taiwan, a few weeks before their actual wedding.  Built to make your wedding photos look like you’re in a kind of dreamworld, Cinderella-style.  Actually I like it.  Not all the cute photo-op things around, but the actual glass monument itself.  It’s very bright blue and very shiny, made of glass.  Hey, every town needs something to draw people in, and well, Budai has a bright blue high-heeled church!

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But the story behind it is one of tragedy.  This coastal area of SW Taiwan lacks freshwater, and in the 1950’s, people dug deep wells to get drinking water, which unfortunately proved high in heavy metals, especially arsenic. Long-term consumption of arsenic causes poor circulation and eventually can cause the feet to turn purplish-black (from gangrene), thus known as ‘Blackfoot Disease’.  The only solution was amputation.  This caused a huge amount of suffering at its peak in the 1960’s. One local girl had to have her feet amputated just before her wedding, so the wedding was cancelled and she spent the rest of her life being taken care of by the church.  Blackfoot Disease therefore denied her the chance of following the traditional Taiwanese custom of stepping over the fire-pan on her wedding day, symbolizing leaving her old life and starting a new one.  As the bride would be beautifully dressed, she would also be wearing high-heeled shoes on her wedding day…..

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The church mentioned in this story is the Presbyterian Church in Beimen District 北門 (don’t confuse this Beimen with the Beimen in Taipei City), the next area to Budai, though actually in Tainan County.  We visited Beimen next.  The most famous local resident was Dr. Wang King-ho 王金河 (1916-2014), who dedicated much of his life to treating patients with Blackfoot Disease at his clinic there, now a museum.

“An outbreak of Blackfoot Disease began in Beimen in 1956, and Wang partnered with medical professionals at National Taiwan University to research the disease. Missionary Lillian Dickson moved to Beimen in 1960 and opened the Mercy’s Door Free Clinic, which was funded by her organization Mustard Seed International, with Wang as head physician.  Hsieh Wei, a doctor based in Puli, Nantou, would make weekly round trips to perform amputations on patients at Mercy’s Door.  After Mercy’s Door closed, Wang returned to his own clinic before retiring in 1996.”

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The museum is well worth visiting, but I will spare you any photos of the preserved amputated feet that are on display.  Gross is the word.  Sorry, but it’s horrible.  Not for the squeamish, like me.  Slightly more bearable are the old medical instruments that were used, but the tools like the saw, and the operating table and the old photos make it all very gruesomely horrific.

Beimen also has a new ‘church’ to add to its tourist attractions, this one a Crystal Church 水晶教堂.  We went there too.  And the old Beimen salt washing workshops, now converted into a visitor center.  And we loved the ‘Money Coming’ 錢來也 Grocery Shop (Qianlaiye), built in 1952 originally as the cafeteria for the salt workers ~ what a great name for a shop!

And then we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields 井仔腳瓦盤鹽田, the oldest salt-field in Taiwan, started in 1818.  This is quite an amazing scene!

The nearby houses are quite beautiful…

And so to Tainan 台南, where we stayed at Grace Church, with our good friends, Rev. Philip Ho and his wife, Nancy and daughter Kathy.  They were so so so good to us!  Yes, great home-cooked meals and kindness galore.  They also had planned our itinerary so well, Philip driving and Nancy really ace on where to go and how to get there.  And they love posing for crazy photos… we took many like this!

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And this….!

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The next day, we were up bright and early for a tour around the area, including the bird reserve famous for the black-faced spoonbills. Actually we didn’t see any of those, but we saw plenty of others of the species listed, including Avocets, Caspian Terns, Curlews, Sacred Ibis, Redshank and all kinds of herons and egrets. We also met some of the wardens who help to staff the reserve and they were so keen to let us look through their telescopes and tell us the birds we were looking at.   Philip used to be a biology teacher, so he knows all the plants, animals and birds too.  A great field-guide!  Actually, there’s less than 3,000 black-faced spoonbills in the whole world and about two-thirds of the world’s population spend the winter in the Tsengwen River estuary, Tainan. But the tide was out, and so were the birds!

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So off we went to see lots of other interesting places, ending with a visit to the site that was St. Michael’s House in Tainan (opposite the Tainan Theological College,) which since the house demolition some years ago, is now used as a large vegetable garden, for local people and church members.  It’s a little oasis in the midst of the big city!

On Sunday, we went to the service at Grace Church, where Philip is the vicar.  The church is on the site of the Grace Church Kindergarten, and they have a very wonderful and very friendly congregation!

Their flower arrangement, combining Lent and Chinese New Year was beautiful!

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I was especially pleased to meet Rev. Samuel Liao, one of our retired clergy and his wife and family.  He is always so encouraging and cheerful, and loves to hear updates of the Anglican Church in England.  Hey, all of us are in red, or shades of it!

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A great service, and a group photo.  Or two, since some of our friends came a bit late and missed the service.  We met lots of old friends.  Ching-Ping, former teacher at St. James’ Kindergarten and her son.  Also Christopher, my colleague here at St. John’s University, his wife Linda and family, along with Linda’s mother who lives in Tainan.  And here they all are.  As it was Chinese New Year, there was no lunch after the service, but we had coffee and plenty of chat!

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And then it was time to say goodbye to Tainan.  Philip and family kindly took us in their car over to the east coast, Taitung 台東 for the next 2 days.  Taitung has the most wonderful coastal scenery in the world!  Blue skies and high mountains too.  And home to many of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.  This journey took many hours to get there, so we stopped for the evening at the famous Chihben (Zhiben / Jhiben) Hot Springs 知本溫泉 area, and went to the Hotel Royal where we had a yummy dinner and the extra blessing of watching the traditional dancing of the Beinan (Puyuma) People, oh and fireworks to finish the evening. (Check out this link for my report of our previous visit to the area over New Year weekend 2016-17, when we followed some of the same route).

So we arrived very late at our destination, Chishang 池上, in the northern area of Taitung, close to Hualien County border, and famous for it’s rice ~ and it’s scenery!

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Up early to see the sunrise and a walk around Dapo Lake, with THE best views!  And what great weather!

Philip and his wife have a good friend, Yi-hua, living in Chishang. Actually, she became a Christian through their ministry when they were in St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, and she was baptized by Philip there a few years ago. In 2016, she moved to Chishang with her husband to start a business selling their newly-invented rice cakes, which are so wonderful!  All made using the 100% real and very famous Chishang rice. There’s savoury and sweet ones, and served with coffee, wow, so delicious.  We arrived on their doorstep (their shop is diagonally opposite the Chishang Presbyterian Church) while they were still asleep (having stayed up to the early hours baking!) and yet they warmly welcomed us in and shared about how God has led them in their business these recent months, ending with a prayer of blessing from Philip.  If you’re ever in Chishang, you just MUST go and visit!

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But now farewell to Chishang, and we were heading first north, then over the mountains to the coastal road and southwards along the coast to Yiwan Card Church 宜灣卡片教堂,  a Presbyterian Church built in 1951, used by the local Amis People 阿美族 (so called the ‘Card Church’ because the design was apparently copied from a card, collected in childhood by one of the church members!) Philip is here below holding an Amis Bible. The church is gorgeous ~ I just love the colours!

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We continued south, visiting famous landmarks and sea vistas, too many to mention, but all in the area around Chenggong Township 成功鎮, where they also have beautiful flowers. And to the Amis village of Pisirian (meaning the place where people raise sheep in Amis language)…

The most famous scenic spot in the whole area is Sanxiantai 三仙台 and its amazing eight-arch bridge.  I walked over the whole thing and up to the light beacon, built in 1915 during the Japanese Colonial Period, the first of its kind on the east coast. I loved it!  I had been to Sanxiantai once before, but many many years ago.  Apparently the best time to go is at sunrise, but we got there mid-afternoon and the clouds were already rolling in fast, so at least it was nice and cool!

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We stayed overnight at the Bunun Leisure Farm, 布農部落 where we had visited also on the same trip as the Beinan Hunting Festival, over New Year weekend 2016-17.

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Bunun Leisure Farm is an initiative set up by Bunun Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Pai Kwang-Sheng and his wife to help the local Bunun People in education and to revive their traditional culture, and to share these resources with visitors, providing a reliable and sustainable source of income for the people.  It was the first time that Philip and his wife had visited, and oh, how they loved it!  We had a wonderful dinner, watched the music performance that evening, and then the dancing performance the next morning, met Rev. Pai who kindly hosted us to lunch and coffee and, well, we were all so so happy!  It is such a great place.  We couldn’t bear to leave!

But leave we had to, in order to get back to Tainan.  And the next day to Taichung.  And after a wonderful dinner, hosted by Rev. Lily Chang for those who help lead and preach at the St. James’ English service, so I headed back to Taipei on Thursday early morning  and eventually home on Thursday night.

What a great Chinese New Year it was!  Special thanks to good friend Ah-Guan and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and his family, and all those who we met, those who welcomed us so warmly and generously, including the Rev. Lily Chang and the Wang family in Taichung, Ms. Xiao in Chishang, Rev. Samuel Liao and the church members of Grace Church, Tainan, Rev. Pai in Bunun Farm and so many more ~ and thanks to the good friends who kindly gave us their Bunun Farm coupons so we could stay there effectively as their guests.  Everyone was so hospitable, gracious and kind.  And not surprisingly, some were exhausted – especially Philip as he did magnificently with so many long hours of driving ~ I have more than one photo like this one!  Thank you Philip.  And I just love his hat!

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The weather was amazing, the scenery was spectacular, the dancing was great, there were virtually no traffic problems, and everything worked out so well.  Thanks be to Almighty God!

And when I got home, Bishop Roger and his wife, Alice and sister-in-law Anne (who’d all been staying at my house over the New Year while visiting Anne and Alice’s lovely parents in the nearby Shuang-Lien Elderly Home) had just left for their respective homes in Mauritius and USA. But I know from their photos that the weather in Sanzhi over the New Year was also warm and sunny,  thanks be to God.  Big thanks to Bishop Roger and family for house-sitting!  This is us on the only day we overlapped, their arrival day on Friday February 9!

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Chinese New Year officially lasts until the 15th day of the first lunar month, so we still have another week to go until the official start of Lantern Festival ~ but as the Chinese New Year festival was so late this year, all work in Taiwan officially resumed on Wednesday, as did all schools, except universities ~ our new semester starts on Monday.  Ah yes, it’s all go to get ready!

So with the New Year well and truly here, wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Dog!

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