“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf. One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar….” 🐛 So runs the opening of one of the world’s most famous children’s books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
“He started to look for some food. On Monday he ate through one apple. But he was still hungry…”
It’s been in the news these past few weeks because the author, Eric Carle sadly died on May 23, aged 91.
And what a book it is! The art work in The Very Hungry Caterpillar is spectacular, with layers of brightly-coloured collage arranged in irregular shapes, with holes in the paper where the caterpillar eats through different fruits each day. I’ve read it hundreds of times to children in at least 4 different schools on 3 different continents, and they all love it, as do parents and teachers the world over!
At its heart, this is the story of the life cycle of a butterfly 🦋 but along the way the children learn all sorts of other things, like the days of the week, colors, numbers, names of fruits and exotic things to eat. They even learn about healthy eating, and what happens if you’re greedy and eat too much – because after 5 days of eating nice healthy fruit, the caterpillar then spends Saturday gorging himself on chocolate cake, ice-cream, pickle, cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake and watermelon. Not surprisingly, that night the caterpillar has a stomach ache. The next day, Sunday, he eats a nice green leaf and feels much better. Even the adults smile at that bit. After all, who of us can honestly say we haven’t been there, done that? Yep, we can all identify with that Very Hungry Caterpillar!
When Eric Carle was asked about the story, he said that as a child, he was scared of growing up. Aren’t we all? But like the caterpillar, we will all grow up in time. Our childhoods are left behind and we become adults. So it is a book of hope. Growing up is something of a transformation, and what better symbol of transformation than a butterfly. When asked about the inspiration for all the bright colours in his art work, Eric Carle talked about his childhood in wartime Germany where the only art permitted was that sanctioned by the Nazi party, used in propaganda. He never saw bright colours until his high school art teacher showed him his forbidden collection of Impressionist paintings. It changed his life and determined his future.
“With many of my books I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child. Will it be a happy place? There are new people, a teacher, classmates – will they be friendly? I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born. Indeed, in both cases, we leave a place of warmth and protection for one that is unknown. The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books, I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.” (Eric Carle)
Here we are in the middle of a pandemic, and currently in Taiwan, along with many other countries in Asia, we are in the middle of a major Covid surge. Many of our family and friends in the USA or Europe have already been through what they hope is the worst of it all, and now some of them are using the same language as the butterfly, as they talk about emerging from their cocoons of lockdown and isolation. Some have emerged as beautiful butterflies, but many have faced sickness, grief, financial problems, family breakdowns, depression, loneliness, hatred, even death. Some feel grateful to be alive and appreciate their new freedoms and experiences, others have lost so much and cannot move on. Many are angry with society, neighbours, colleagues, government leaders, even with God, for letting them down. Some have lost their faith; some have stopped feeling part of a church or fellowship group. From afar, we have watched this happen to those we know personally and those who share their thoughts and feelings for the world to see. Are we ready if it should happen to us?
While many countries were in lockdown, we in Taiwan were living the life of the caterpillar, eating, drinking and enjoying ourselves. Life was so relatively ‘normal’ for us this past year – we could have meals in restaurants, coffee with friends, classes, church events, outings, hiking trips, holidays, family gatherings. Taiwan was so safe, nobody felt the need even to be vaccinated. But now we find ourselves having to stay home – and restricted in what we can do, where we can go and who we can meet. Our social events are all cancelled for the foreseeable future, we can only meet online with friends and family. It’s almost like we are being forced into our own cocoons. Could this be our time for transformation?
This is only our 4th weekend under Level 3 restrictions (of a 4-tier system) to try to get the Covid surge under control. In that time, it’s become clear that some were very well-prepared and the transition has been smooth. Kudos to Taiwan state schools, teachers, parents and children, who were given one day’s notice to close and move all classes online, and they’ve done it. Children may be going goggle-eyed with so much online study, but they are busily occupied all day long and learning important things. My neighbour tells me that PE class for her 10-year-old son last week consisted of him helping with the housework – and taking a photo to send to the teacher to show what he’d done. Ha ha, that’s my idea of PE too! It’s much more of a challenge for our church kindergartens and others like them, given that kindergarten style of teaching is less intense and children learn so much from play and discovering things for themselves, rather than spending all day long online in different lessons. Our teachers are making videos and sharing activities for the children to do, but the challenges will increase over time if school fees are not paid. Some government help is coming, but like most things, it’s never quite certain until it’s actually arrived.
Spider Tree aka Sacred Garlic Pear (Crateva religiosa)….
While many people are working from home, many more could be working from home if their employers would trust them enough, and if employees didn’t feel obliged to prove their loyalty by willingly going into work, even if it means traveling on public transport across the city. Many workplaces have divided into 2 teams, with half coming in one day, the other half the next. Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s work culture has come in for a lot of scrutiny.
Although Greater Taipei is by far the worst affected area of Taiwan, the hotspots are all in the densely-populated inner city and suburban areas. Out here in the countryside, although officially part of Greater Taipei, it’s much better – so far anyway; we shall see. There are now QR codes to scan for everything, from entering convenience stores, supermarkets, banks and workplaces to going on any form of public transport: either scan the QR code, use a pre-registered card, or write out your name and contact details. Every place has obligatory temperature checks, and of course facemasks are compulsory outside the home. But even with so many precautions, there are still some very vulnerable places and weak spots, like the traditional markets that are all still open – though numbers of stall holders and shoppers are controlled, then there’s the large care homes dotted along the coast, and the student / migrant worker dormitories. Our student classes are all online, so most of our students have returned home for the summer, but the overseas students are still here, plus some whose homes are in downtown Taipei – their parents tell them to stay here where it’s safer.
Living on a university campus means we still have access to fresh air and exercise, and just 10 minutes’ walk down the hill brings us to the sea. While all the famous beaches further north up the coast are closed off, our modest little seaside area (it hardly qualifies as a beach, but still) is accessible, and ideal for early morning walks before the sun comes up. The government has done a lot to discourage people from going out unnecessarily, like closing off footpaths, trails, parks, school campuses etc., and allowing eateries, restaurants, convenience stores etc. to only sell takeout meals. So we do go out, but wearing a facemask discourages strenuous exercise, as it’s so hot. Fortunately the rainy season has come upon us this past week, and it’s a bit cooler – grateful that it will help to bring some relief to our serious drought.
Also well-prepared for the sudden Covid surge and the move online were our churches. Level 3 restrictions for the Greater Taipei area – and the cancellation of all religious events, with no more than 5 people meeting together indoors, 10 outdoors – were announced on Saturday May 15, so there was not much time for our clergy to prepare for the following day, Sunday. A few days later and Level 3 was imposed throughout Taiwan. By Pentecost, May 23, all our clergy had put together a plan for their congregations to worship online, either livestreaming their own service or joining one of the others. By last Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we had 16 livestreamed online services happening around the diocese, and I watched them all. Yep, all 16! Well OK, I watched a part of them all, and took screenshots as each service progressed…
For today’s service, well I watched myself, giving my usual First-Sunday-of-the-Month sermon at St. James’ English Service, Taichung, which was pre-recorded. Actually, the first part of this blog post, the bit about The Very Hungry Caterpillar, was adapted from today’s sermon. This is me in action – OK, next time I’ll slow down! We followed it by virtual Coffee Hour.
At 2:00 pm each day, there’s a press conference by the government’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to announce the previous day’s confirmed cases (domestic & imported), deaths, numbers of cases in each city / county, and updates about the vaccine situation. So far, the daily confirmed cases is fairly stable, usually 300-500, and 10-40 deaths, with the vast majority of cases in the Greater Taipei area. The original hotspot in Taipei continues to be the old red light area of Wanhua, spreading outwards from there.
Current figures: “Taiwan has confirmed a total of 11,298 COVID-19 cases, of which over 9,900 are domestic infections reported since May 15, when the country first recorded more than 100 cases in a single day. The number of COVID-19 deaths in the country has risen to 260, including 248 since May 15, CECC data shows. As of Thursday, Taiwan had administered 621,322 vaccine doses, all of the AstraZeneca brand, for a country of 23.57 million people.”
A large donation of vaccines arrived on Friday from Japan, more are coming from the USA, plus there’s the locally-developed vaccines that may be ready in the summer. While people are fairly united in tackling the pandemic situation on the ground, they are not united when it comes to expressing opinions about government action (or inaction) in this present surge, plus the vaccine shortage. Politics is so very divisive. Please continue to pray for us. Thank you!
And wishing you all a Happy Dragon Boat Festival for next weekend!
(All photos in this post were taken in the last few weeks at St. John’s University, Taipei – or down at the sea just below the campus)