All posts by Catherine Lee

Chilling up on Yang-Ming-Shan 陽明山: 🐍 Taiwan Habu / Brown Spotted Pit Viper / 龜殼花蛇!🐍 Or is it?

It’s high summer in Taiwan, exhaustively hot and humid, and the best outdoor place to escape the heat is up in the mountains, where there’s a breeze and some shade. So, up to Yang-ming-shan National Park 陽明山 (the mountains above Taipei) we all go ~ there’s a range of 10 mountains up there to choose from, and endless trails and places to walk, meet, chill, relax and enjoy the breeze.

And today on Mian-tian-shan 面天山 (Mt Mian-tian: 977 m) there was a s.n.a.k.e.😨 🐍🐍 😨 Snakes are common in Taiwan, but they usually move very fast, and, well, nobody hangs around long when a snake is on the move. This one was a very cool, calm and collected snake, all chilled out and all coiled up by the side of the path. So cool, calm and collected that I’d passed it by before the gathered crowd told me to look.

This could be a Brown Spotted Pit Viper, known locally as a Taiwan Habu, and in Chinese as 龜殼花蛇 (translates as ‘turtle shell pattern’), and in Latin as Protobothrops mucrosquamatus. Turns out to be highly venomous, and is the same species of snake as appeared on a Taiwan TV News report recently when one was spotted among the drinks on a delivery man’s motorbike in Taipei City. Certainly caused a stir!

So, things I have learnt today about the Taiwan Habu: it’s very common throughout Taiwan up to 1,000 m in altitude, occurs all over Asia, belongs to the same family as rattlesnakes (now there’s a thought!), mostly nocturnal, the most fearless of the common venomous snakes in Taiwan, can be aggressive – attacking shadows and moving objects, and especially in rural areas – even the smallest medical facilities carry Habu antivenom.

But since then, someone has told me that this might not in fact be a Taiwan Habu, it might be a False Taiwan Habu / False Viper 擬龜殼花 Macropisthodon rudis because its head is not as triangular as it should be. If so, it is only (!) mildly venomous, occurs only in south China and Taiwan, mimics the real Taiwan Habu in colours and patterns, and “when irritated and excited, it may make every effort to act or appear as a venomous snake: the head and neck, or the entire body, may be flattened as the snake coils up in defense; when flattened, the oval head may take on a strong, definite triangular shape in an attempt to mimic vipers.”

Isn’t nature amazing?

😉 Good job I didn’t know all that when I took the photograph! 😉

Advent Church Summer Camp 2019 降臨堂兒童喜樂營!

‘Be Brave!’ was the theme of this year’s summer camp, run by Advent Church in cooperation with St. John’s University Student Fellowship ~ and it was a really great choice of theme, oh so relevant to children – and to all the leaders too! You’ve certainly gotta be brave to run a summer camp in searing heat in the height of summer, when thunderstorms are forecast and many people would rather be inside doing as little as possible 😊 As it was, we had 80 excited and very energetic children plus 35 equally excited and energetic student leaders ~ YES!

All the songs, games, activities, stories, drama and teaching were on the theme of courage, whether it was facing a barrage of water in the water fight, trying to hit a paper ball with a flip-flop, hitting your opposing team member’s foam shield with your rolled up newspaper, listening to stories of courage, or most moving of all, watching the drama. The students acted out 2 scenes of a story about facing bullies, drawing on strength and courage from God in prayer to know how to stand up to them and when to report what they’re doing. Many of the children had tears in their eyes, and so did I. Our students are really talented. They worked so hard to prepare and practice everything. The preparations have been going on for months, with an intensive weekend of training starting last Friday night right through to Sunday. The results were amazing….

The summer camp was on Monday and Tuesday this week, July 1-2, the official start of Taiwan’s 2-months summer holiday. Yippee! The weather was cloudy, so it was a bit cooler. Distant thunder indicated rain was on its way, it started as we got to the water fight on Tuesday afternoon ~ then the rain came just as we finished and moved inside!

Thanks to all our student team, church and chaplaincy leaders, church members and visitors. Special thanks to Yu-Ru and Tzi-Wei for organizing everything, everything went so well! We were honoured to welcome our old friend, Sheerah from Malaysia. In 2010, she came to Advent Church as part of a team from the Diocese of West Malaysia, and she led us all in training for that year’s summer camp on the theme of ‘Kids Games’, which we’ve used every year since, including all the banners which they kindly donated to us. Last year, Sheerah left Malaysia and moved to Taiwan to get married, she’s now pregnant and she came to visit for the second day of our camp. We were delighted to see her! This is Sheerah with all 9 of our Malaysian student leaders on the camp….

And in August, our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang will lead a mission trip to the Diocese of West Malaysia, along with some youth from our companion Diocese of Osaka – so this photo is of our Malaysian students plus those from the summer camp student team who are going on that mission trip. Ah, see how much we all love Malaysia!

We finished the summer camp with a buffet meal last night at the church centre, and said our goodbyes ~ some of our students have graduated and are moving back home, including some back to Malaysia, while some graduated last year and are now at work, but managed to take 2 days off work for this camp, while others will look for summer jobs. Some of the helpers are still high school students and have summer classes coming up. They all leave with many happy memories – and a whole lot of new friends!

Next week our summer class programme at Advent Church starts for 30 children and 4 student leaders, lasting for 6 weeks through the summer holidays. Please pray for them all. We thank God for all the children who came this year to our summer camp, they were all so lovely – and they’re already looking forward to next year!

Thanks be to God for another amazing summer camp ~ YES!

St. John’s University, Taiwan: Graduation 2019!

Congratulations to all 900 students who graduated this past Saturday from St. John’s University (SJU)! And what a great occasion it was, with so many parents, relatives, friends, alumni, faculty and staff to celebrate with them. Some were accompanied by lots of family members, and some of the families from overseas were making a holiday of it all, and traveling on elsewhere. The photo below is of Yee Theng and her family from Sabah, Malaysia, she’s one of our most mature and very lovely student fellowship leaders, and her family were all here to join the graduation celebrations -YES!

And here I am with Calvin, one of our hardest-working, most successful and friendliest Malaysian students and his family…

Most of the students I know are those associated with the SJU Student Fellowship ~ and yes, quite a few of them are from Malaysia; lots more are from Taiwan of course. Bishop David J. H. Lai, chair of the SJU Trustees, and SJU President Ay Herchang led the celebrations, graduated the students, gave speeches, presented awards and shared their congratulations with all the students. There were many other VIP guests too, including a number of very distinguished alumni who received awards. A selection of photos below ~ and if it looks like a student is holding their ears in the photo, it’s because their mortar boards kept falling off!

Actually the day had started at 9:00 am with a gathering of alumni of the former St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology (SJSMIT) (original name of SJU) for the dedication by Bishop Lai of the newly-installed SJSMIT logo on the slope below Advent Church. For many years that logo was located in the floor of the main entrance to the central building. When the old buildings were demolished to make way for the new ones, the logo was moved to the SJSMIT archives and museum centre. Now it has been brought back once again into a more central place where it can be seen more easily by everyone.

About midday, after the graduation ceremony, our students came along to Advent Church for photos with their families – such fun!

Although it is sad to say goodbye, we have many happy memories! Last Thursday, our student fellowship (along with some fellowship alumni and chaplaincy staff) gathered to say goodbye to our 9 graduating fellowship members. The evening started with a formal meal, then we moved onto a celebration party, and this year’s theme was a pyjama party – ah, what a laugh! By tradition the graduating students prepare something special to present to the student fellowship, so here they all are with our current fellowship leader….

At the party, there was a catwalk for each one to model their pyjama costume, there were informal speeches, dancing, songs, presentations, hugs, gifts, tears, laughter and lots of photos!

Ah yes, many congratulations to all our SJU graduates of 2019! May God bless them as they leave us to pursue further studies or military service, find a job, return to their own countries or continue to stay on in Taiwan, whatever and wherever, we pray for them all and give thanks for the privilege of knowing them all for these past 4 years!

Pentecost & Dragon Boat Festival 2019!

A bumper weekend here in Taiwan ~ with an extra day off on Friday for the Dragon Boat Festival. YES!

Today is Pentecost ~ the day we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples in Jerusalem, 40 days after His resurrection and 10 days after His ascension. The colour associated with Pentecost is always red, and it so happens I just love red! Today at Advent Church @ St. John’s University, the 2 flame trees are still in flower (see the 2 photos above, taken on May 30) ~ and nearly everyone was wearing something red. And it looked beautiful! So beautiful in fact, that we had a group photo of us all, that’s the one at the top. We also had the Gospel reading in lots of different languages, which was a blessing, helped considerably by our Malaysian students who are very multilingual. And one of our Taiwan students, Zhong-Yu was baptized – he lives locally, so he also went to our local junior-high school next door, and he’s well-known to us all. Thanks be to God!

Meanwhile, out on the streets, the local townships of Tamsui and Sanzhi are celebrating Dragon Boat Festival this weekend with 3 days of parades of deities and gods. For followers of traditional folk religion, this weekend is a busy time of cooking and making offerings to the ancestors. It’s also a time for family reunions. Here at St. John’s University, 2 of our delightful church members, Ming-Chuan and Meng-Zhen spent all of Friday cooking a delicious dinner, and in the evening they invited our Malaysian students plus some of our chaplaincy staff to a wonderful gathering, & me too….😊😊😊!

The traditional food for Dragon Boat Festival is zhong- zi 粽子, made with sticky rice, filled with meat, eggs (or even red beans for a dessert) and wrapped in bamboo leaves or other large flat leaves, and boiled or steamed. But there was also plenty more – all yummy!

Taiwan is in the middle of the Plum Rainy Season, so the weather is always unpredictable, and for this weekend, it was mostly forecast to rain every afternoon in the mountains. On Friday it was 32°C, but ‘feels like 41°C’ said my phone. It was indeed very hot. Phew! I went up Guanyinshan 觀音山 (616m – but felt like triple that 😫😫😫!!) This is what the mountain looks like from Tamsui MRT Station, just a small pimple of a hill. But on a hot June day, feeling like 41 °C, it is massive! The trail starts just across the river, just above sea level.

The trail to the main peak is called the Ying Han Ling trail (硬漢嶺步道) or the “Tough Guy Peak” – because it’s where the police used to do their training. But that’s not all. Coming along the ridge to the left are another 6-7 smaller humps, all very steep, and all either with steps or ropes going up and down. It’s hard on the legs and hands (take gloves!) but it’s great fun. Difficult to photograph, cos it’s really steep ~ and a little hot, but it’s worth it all…

The whole trail took 5½ long, hot hours, and the highlight was seeing the view at the top…

And the hydrangeas, in full bloom all over….

And this is Taipei down below…

On Saturday, I decided the best way to beat the aching limbs was to go up another hill – and this time off I went to Xiangshan, Elephant Mountain, over on the other side of Taipei, up behind Taipei 101 ~ plus the range of hills behind it, which lead up to Jiuwu / 9-5 Peak 九五峰 (402m) and Muzhi mountain 拇指山, on the same trail. The weather was mostly cloudy, so it was a bit cooler, and after Guanyinshan, this walk was really a piece of cake. Only 3½ hours to complete the whole trail – normally it’s hard work in the heat with all the steps, but hey, compared with the day before, it was easy!

And now back to sea-level, recovering from all those exertions, and the weekend would not be complete without sharing with you a few photos of what’s going on locally, well, in Sanzhi. The fields are full of water bamboo, seaweed is drying in the sun, the waterwheels are busy, and the sun is shining!

And the lotus flowers are out all over Sanzhi too. I took these on Thursday early morning last week….

And then there’s lots of the Singapore Daisies (Sphagneticola trilobata) or wedelia, which unfortunately are on the “List of the world’s 100 worst invasive species” – which is a great shame, cos they are stunningly beautiful, and look great covering up old walls!

A great big thank you to all who made our Dragon Boat Festival so special, and thanks be to God for good weather, welcoming friends, delicious food, beautiful countryside, spectacular mountains, and lots to see and do. May God’s Holy Spirit continue to fill us each day. Wishing you all a happy and blessed Pentecost 2019!

Kinmen 金門: Transforming War into Peace @ The Home of the Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses!

My first ever visit to the Kinmen Islands – YES!

Artillery Shells, Kinmen

Kinmen 金門 (aka Quemoy / Chinmen / Chin-men), one of Taiwan’s farthest-flung islands, is where the 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment 八二三炮戰 happened in 1958 as part of the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, when an estimated 450,000 artillery shells were fired at the Kinmen Islands. It’s also where the Bishop of Taiwan, David J. H. Lai had his vision in 2016 to transform some of those artillery shells into crosses, a symbol of hatred and war now transformed into a symbol of love and peace.  The Chin Ho Li Steel Knife Workshop 金合利, founded in 1963 in Kinmen, uses the discarded artillery shells to make high-quality steel blades for both kitchen and ornamental use. Maestro Wu, grandson of the founder, now runs the company, and he kindly offered his expertise to work with Bishop Lai on the design and production of the prototype crosses.  To produce lighter-weight crosses, he suggested using moulds, and this was done by sending the artillery shell steel to another factory elsewhere.  This project of the Taiwan Episcopal Church has now been fully realized, and while I was in the UK on home leave this past year, I presented Kinmen Artillery Shell Crosses to many church leaders. This included acting on behalf of Bishop Lai to present one to the Archbishop of Canterbury; Bishop Lai himself led a delegation from the National Council of Churches of Taiwan to the Vatican in December 2017, where he was able to present one to Pope Francis.   This is Maestro Wu’s workshop in Kinmen – the smell of the smelters in the workshop is really strong!

But y’know, until now, I had never actually visited Kinmen.  So you can imagine how excited I was when Bishop Lai invited me to join this church visit to Kinmen for 29 members and friends of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, from May 20-22, 2019!  His purpose on this visit was firstly to visit Maestro Wu to thank him for his help…

Secondly to visit the Zhaishan Tunnel翟山坑道 in Kinmen to sing our specially-composed Artillery Shell Cross hymn, and thirdly to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, open to the public only since March 2019.  This is everyone in the Zhaishan Tunnel….

Thanks be to God that, through His mercy and grace, we accomplished all that we wanted to do in Kinmen!  But as we arrived at Songshan Airport in Taipei City on Monday May 20 at 7:00 am to check in for the 8:00 am hour-long flight to Kinmen, we wondered whether we would even get off the ground.  The Plum Rains were here in full force; outside was torrential rain (in fact we learned later that flash-flooding caused St. John’s University to cancel classes that day), while we also heard that Kinmen Airport was closed and over 1,000 people had been stranded in Kinmen overnight waiting for the weather to improve.  The 7:00 am flight to Kinmen was first delayed, then cancelled, and we feared ours would be next. Down south in Kaohsiung, 7 of our group were already stranded at the airport there as their flight to Kinmen really was cancelled, so all they could do was wait on standby for a spare seat.  Our group at Taipei was 22 people, far too many to all get to Kinmen on standby if our flight was to be cancelled too.  Aaaah!  Then suddenly at about 8:30 am, the announcement came that we could proceed to check in our luggage and onwards to boarding.  YES!

And our group from Taipei have arrived at Kinmen!

The skies were dark as we started to fly west over the Taiwan Strait towards Kinmen.  But as we got closer, blue sky emerged up above, and by the time we arrived, the rain had stopped.  But it did continue to rain on and off all day, mostly heavily.  Fortunately our group from Kaohsiung also all managed to get there in the end, although it took until about 2:00 pm before the last 2 arrived.  Here we all are, united at the ceramics factory – possibly our only group photo of 28/29 of us (taken by Mr. Chuang Hsiao-Wu, one of our group) …

Like many islands in this part of the world, Kinmen has a complicated history.  “Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on October 1, 1949, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) under Chiang Kai-shek began withdrawing its forces from mainland China to Taiwan. However, ROC garrisons remained stationed on the islands of Kinmen and Matsu, located off the coast in Fujian Province.”  In fact, the Kinmen Islands were so heavily militarized that, at its peak, an estimated 100,000 troops were stationed there.  Many hundreds of thousands of Taiwan men have done their military service in Kinmen, including our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang. For years, military service was 2 years, so Kinmen made a deep impression on those serving there.  These days, the total number of military personnel in the whole of the Kinmen Islands numbers less than 5,000.  What a difference! But there are the remnants of army bases, equipment, museums, guard posts and military memorials all over Kinmen.  Many of these more obvious memorials are standing right in the middle of roundabouts – guess it makes moving military equipment easier if there’s a roundabout rather than a sharp corner, anyway Kinmen has more roundabouts on that one single island than I have ever seen in the whole of the rest of Taiwan. 

Kinmen is located in Xiamen Bay, at the mouth of the Jiulong River, 227 km west of Taiwan, but only 10 km east of Xiamen.  Xiamen is a huge port city in China, population 3,500,000 (census of 2010), and formerly known as Amoy – it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912.  The main Greater Kinmen Island is shaped like a dumbbell or a butterfly (depending on your imagination); the narrowest part is 3 km wide, and at the widest part, east-west, it is 20 km.  There’s also the neigbouring island of Small / Lesser Kinmen 小金門, and the much smaller islands of Dadan, Erdan and more. 

Sadly Kinmen has been very badly deforested by all the political chaos, civil wars and centuries of pirate attacks, so instead of being protected by its forests, it is now famous for its northeast monsoon winds that roar around all autumn and winter and make cultivation very difficult.  All over Kinmen are Wind Lion God statues, originally installed to protect against wind damage, and now also believed to protect against evil spirits… 

And then there’s the cows – like roundabouts, it seems as if there’s more cows in tiny Kinmen than in the whole of Taiwan.  They’re on every grassy bit of field, all individually tied up and with their own bucket of water, and all with their own personality!

For me, the most interesting things in Kinmen are the old houses.  There’s old houses all over Taiwan, but nothing like the ones in Kinmen. I expected to see a few, but there are thousands.  Most of them are well-preserved and still inhabited, others have been converted to guest houses and holiday cottages. Their style is traditional Fujian, with swallowtail or horseback-shaped ridges on their roofs.  They are stunning – and I couldn’t get enough of ‘em!

Tourism is now a major source of income for Kinmen people, and being so close to Xiamen means that trade with China is booming.  The water supply even comes from there, via a pipeline, installed in 2018. The Kinmen government has invested a lot of money in developing the islands for tourism and trying to attract their people to move back from Taiwan and China. Business is good, and there are supermarkets and department stores, big houses and luxury developments.  Kinmen is also famous for the production of Kaoliang wine, made from sorghum, and at this time of year the fields of sorghum have just been harvested.  Food production also includes oysters, and out on the beach at low tide are vast oyster farms – the sky was hazy, but in the distance we could just see the skyscrapers of Xiamen.

On our arrival on Monday May 20, we went to the visitor centre, to the Zhaishan Tunnel (constructed between 1961-66 to keep military boats safe from attack), where we sang our artillery shell hymn, to the ceramics factory and then to Shishan (Mt. Lion) Howitzer Front獅山砲陣地 where we had a demo of artillery shells being fired from the Howitzer, which has a firing range of 17 km, and was used in the 823 Artillery Bombardment.  In the torrential rain, we also visited the cultural park.  Most of these places were inside – so fortunate – seeing as the rain kept on pouring down!

We were staying at a guest house called 璞真民宿, located in Jinning Township, in the NW of Kinmen and owned by Mr. Kao, a relative of one of our church members in Taipei.  He arranged all our itinerary for us, and we also very much enjoyed his wife’s home-cooked breakfasts – and the chance to use his main room for evening worship. Here he is with Bishop Lai, drinking tea…

Early on Tuesday morning, I was up early to walk around the area. Fields of peanuts, tractors, temples and so many old houses to take photos of – oh yes, and a deer ranch! 

On our third day in Kinmen, I was up early again for sunrise over the fish farms, and walked along to the nearby villages of Nanshan and Beishan…

And the very nearby Li Guang-Qian General Temple 李光前將軍廟. General Li Guang-Qian was the highest ranking officer in the Battle of Guningtou, and his statue is now installed as the main deity…. 

“The Battle of Guningtou 古寧頭之役, also known as the Battle of Kinmen 金門戰役, was a battle fought over Kinmen in the Taiwan Strait during the Chinese Civil War in October 1949. Commanders of the PRC People’s Liberation Army (PLA) believed that Kinmen and Matsu had to be taken before a final assault on Taiwan.  The PLA planned to attack Kinmen by launching a first attack with 9,000 troops to establish a beachhead, before landing a second force of roughly 10,000 on Greater Kinmen Island, expecting to take the entire island in three days”. But the PLA completely underestimated the number of Nationalist ROC troops on Kinmen, and they landed at high tide so their vessels were beached and they couldn’t return for reinforcements. By the third day they had run out of food and ammunition.  “The failure of the Communists to take the island left it in the hands of the Kuomintang (Nationalists) and crushed their chances of taking Taiwan to destroy the Nationalists completely in the war”.   

Just near the village of Beishan, where much of the fighting took place, is the marker for the Battle of Guningtou, in front of one of the houses badly damaged in the battle… 

Nearby is the Guningtou Museum and its famous Peace Bell…

We also visited the oyster farm at low tide and the nearby beach…

And also on our trip, we visited the Deyue Tower, and the old houses belonging to the overseas Chinese community…

Also the Juguang Tower, Kinmen’s iconic landmark, built in 1953 as a memorial for Kinmen’s fallen soldiers in the Battle of Guningtou 4 years earlier – seen as a token of Kinmen’s spirit, and for many years used as an image on Taiwan’s postage stamps. And I just love the Kinmen telephone boxes, with the Chinese characters for Kinmen 金門 above…

We visited Rushan Visitor Centre and the Chiang Ching-Kuo Memorial Hall 蔣經國先生紀念 (ROC president 1978-1988) where there were displays of military might, and quite surprisingly a lovely pine forest to walk around in.  

One of our main purposes in going to Kinmen was to visit Dadan Island 大膽島, located right in the middle of Xiamen Bay, only 4,400 metres from Xiamen – the red dot marks the spot….

If Kinmen has had a tragic past, then Dadan Island’s past is possibly even more tragic. The 823 Artillery Shell Bombardment in 1958 hit Dadan Island hard (over 100,000 artillery shells landed), and ever since then it’s been even more of a major hub of military activity.  It was only demilitarized and handed over to the civilian government in 2014, and now it’s open for guided tours (though not as yet for citizens of China, Hong Kong or Macau).  This is the place where patriotic recordings were broadcast daily across the Xiamen Bay, and the place where the Dadan Psychological Warfare Wall was built in 1986 – the 3.2-meter-tall, 20-meter-long wall labeled with military slogans is a top-rated tourist attraction among mainland tourists. We even saw the tourist boats coming near to check it out. Dadan is also the place where homesick young military conscripts installed 1,473 cement lion statues, shrines and temples to help them survive the rigours of military life amid the uncertainties of not knowing whether they would ever be able to return home alive.