All posts by Catherine Lee

2022 Taiwan Diocesan Convention & Workshop: Next Year Hualien 明年花蓮!

Yes, we’re looking forward to it already, next year’s diocesan convention on Taiwan’s scenic east coast ~ St. Luke’s Church, Hualien here we come! We’ve just had this year’s convention online, for the first time ever, preceded by a day’s workshop held in person at the cathedral. We loved seeing everyone there but it was only a day, so here’s to next year!

Many years ago, we had a visiting bishop who came to speak at our diocesan convention / synod here in Taiwan.  He described his experiences of visiting diocesan conventions elsewhere.  In England, he said, where such events are called synods, they’re held mostly in a single day, usually in some cold and draughty church hall, with the wind and rain howling around outside.  Coffee may be served, but there’ll be no lunch on offer – you have to bring your own – all of which is considered quite normal.  In complete contrast, he described his experience visiting the USA, where such events are called conventions, and which often meet over 2 days in a 5-star luxury hotel with all meals provided, and all hotel amenities available for use; all at great expense to the church – but also considered quite normal. 

Workshop

And then he came to Taiwan, where we fit somewhere in-between – and he loved it! The friendly welcomes, the atmosphere, the dedication of our church members in attending such events.  Our churches take it in turns to host the event.  Many of our church members like to combine attending the convention with a visit to, say, relatives nearby or to some tourist attractions ~ but staying in a nice hotel, seeing all our friends again is the main reason why everyone is willing to come.  The Taiwan Episcopal Church is after all much like a large family, everyone knows each other, and many are even related to each other or grew up together.  The actual meetings – the reports, elections etc may be necessary but, well, let’s face it, they can be a bit of an endurance test.  It was during the online meetings at our convention last week that I remembered that visiting bishop and his experiences in England, USA and Taiwan, and wondered to myself if online is the way to go for future conventions (I hope not!) – or just how do we get the balance right?!  

Workshop

Anyway, aware that people need to be encouraged to attend such events, often held far away – but also aware of the costs and the negative image of church funds being spent on extravagant hotels, so Taiwan’s convention is usually held at a hotel that is mostly 3 or 4 (or occasionally even 5) stars, but one where we’ve managed to get a large discount through our church members. The costs are further reduced by holding the opening service and initial meetings in the local church hosting the event. This year it should have been the turn of St. Luke’s Church, Hualien.  Seeing as we were going so far, so our bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang also decided to organize a ‘workshop’ for the day before the actual convention started, intended for our clergy and church members involved in youth and community outreach. 

Workshop

Then along came Taiwan’s latest and by far the biggest Covid surge so far.  A month ago, cases started going up on a huge scale. With most people vaccinated, so the government has changed track from a zero-covid policy with lots of restrictions, to allowing normal daily life to continue on as much as possible.  They’re trying to keep hospital beds available for only the most serious of cases by allowing home quarantine for everyone else.  Apart from facemasks and quarantine rules for confirmed cases and their close contacts, Taiwan’s central government is no longer imposing strict rules and regulations on society as a whole, so it is up to individuals and institutions to make their own decisions.  Numbers are now up to over 40,000 new cases per day and rising, and the virus is everywhere.  During last week’s convention, two of our clergy had tested positive, and two others were in home quarantine due to their children’s contact with confirmed Covid cases.  We face an uncertain time ahead as the country tries to gradually open up its borders while at the same time dealing with a major surge in cases.  Fortunately, a few weeks ago, as the cases started to rise, Bishop Chang announced that the diocesan convention would be moved online, starting Thursday evening May 5 and lasting all day Friday, May 6, though the workshop would be held in person on Wednesday, May 4 at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for those able to attend.    

Workshop Group Photo

And so it was that most of us gathered last Wednesday at St. John’s Cathedral. The workshop was actually a day of worship, sharing, teaching and prayer, led by the Rev. Ian Liao 廖文華牧師, pastor in charge of Truth Church, Taipei, 基督教台北真道教會, a large, growing and very lively church in Wanhua, one of Taipei’s poorest areas and oldest red-light districts. Bishop Chang had invited him to come to share the experiences of their church in community outreach and youth ministry. He was specifically asked to share not just their successes, but also their failures, and what they had learned from their ministry that could help us.  It turned out that Rev. Liao had studied for several years in the UK at Cambridge University, and while there had worshiped in a lively Anglican Church, so he was very familiar with our style of worship and liturgy. Living in Cambridge had clearly made a big impression on him, especially being surrounded by so many magnificent church buildings which had only a few elderly church members, or were even closed down completely and converted to bars and restaurants. He had also done a lot of research into our Episcopal churches in Taiwan, going on prayer walks circling around some of them and checking out nearby schools, colleges and other suitable places for outreach.  In fact, their church used to be located very near our cathedral, but they had opted to buy a new building in Wanhua to better serve the people there. He was very well-placed to challenge us all about our outreach ministry. 

Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang presents Rev. Ian Liao with a thank you gift

This was the first time I had seen this kind of ministry event organized by the diocese as part of our diocesan convention and held in our cathedral.  Rev. Liao had brought the leadership team from his church, who led the worship, and during the prayer times, they moved around praying with different people.   It was very moving to see so many of our clergy and lay members respond to Rev. Liao’s call – and the moving of the Holy Spirit – to go to the front to receive prayer for their own children, those whose children no longer go to church or who have made choices in their careers or relationships which put them at odds with their parents.  It was also very moving to see so many respond to Rev. Liao’s call to come forward to commit themselves to ministry among different groups of people, and later he specifically called several clergy and their spouses to the front to pray for them, sharing as led by the Holy Spirit.   

Workshop

On Friday morning, Rev. Liao appeared by video to give the opening sermon of the diocesan convention.   It was a really excellent and very challenging sermon, and plans are already in hand here in Advent Church to show it to our vestry committee and church leaders too. He preached from Ezekiel 47, ‘the river from the temple’ and he talked about how the living water comes from the temple then spreads out from there. As we long for the living water of the Holy Spirit to fill our churches, so the living water will then pour out onto our local communities, bringing blessings to all.  With this longing in our hearts and filled with the Holy Spirit, so we need to start out walking, and we will see God’s anointing on our ministry as we go.  The deeper we go into our local communities, the deeper into the living water we will go, until, just as in Ezekiel’s vision, it covers our ankles, then knees, and shoulders, until we are swimming in this living water of the Holy Spirit. 

In Ez. 47:8, the water flows to the Dead Sea and the salty water becomes fresh – so as we move out from our churches, lives around us will be changed and relationships restored. Their church has a ministry in Ximending helping children with their studies in after-school classes and giving them evening meals, thus helping families, as well as improving results for local schools, so local people no longer need to send their children to schools outside the area to get better results.  In Ez. 47:10, ‘fish of every kind’ will fill the rivers and sea – so our churches will be filled with people of every kind, every age & background, rich & poor, indigenous and every ethnic group.  Wanhua was ground-zero for last year’s Covid surge, and their “Church Can Help” project helped deliver relief packages to 4,000 families during Level 3 Covid Restrictions, and some have started to come to church. In Ez. 47: 12, the trees will bear fruit every month and the leaves will not wither, and their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing – so God’s blessings are ongoing every month, but he blesses us not to make us proud of our achievements, but for us to continue to bless others.  That’s a brief summary!

Opening Service: View from Advent Church

In his sermon at the opening service on Thursday evening, Bishop Chang reviewed and commented on some of the lessons learned at the previous day’s workshop, and encouraged and exhorted all the clergy to spend less time in their church offices – and get out into the community, doing outreach and sharing the Gospel!

Opening Service: View from Advent Church

The opening service was held at St. John’s Cathedral, we watched it online.  After the service finished, Rev. David Chee presented a graduation certificate to Vivian Meng-Rung Kuo, our first graduate of the Trinity School for Christian Ministry (TSCM), our newly-established diocesan theological college. Congratulations to her and to all at TSCM! 

Bishop Chang, Vivian Kuo & Rev. David Chee (TSCM dean)

And so to the start of the diocesan convention online.  The idea was that each church would host the online event for their own clergy and delegates, so everybody gathered at their respective churches – all that is except for those who were in Covid quarantine, who stayed home.  

Convention: Advent Church

So what did I learn?  Firstly, an online diocesan convention using zoom takes much longer than a meeting in person, especially elections for the different committees.  This was done by scanning the QR codes, and although it mostly went smoothly, it seemed to go on and on!  Normally our meetings run not just to time, but often finish early, but by lunchtime on Friday, we were running about an hour late. The fun thing was to check out all the different people and churches and how they were doing things there.  Some had their group sitting very close in full view – they provided quite a lot of entertainment as they forgot the camera was so close, while others, like us here at Advent Church had ours set well back, so we could even walk around and nobody would notice.

Convention

On Friday afternoon, after all the formalities of the convention were over, each of our 15 churches had 10 minutes to do a presentation.  This was really interesting, and each church presented a detailed vision and action plan for the next 1, 3 and 5 years. Our clergy tell me that this has been a really good exercise, sitting down with their vestry committee and praying and planning for the future. Most used PowerPoint to do their presentations. In my humble opinion, our Advent Church PowerPoint was the most beautiful, and our rector’s talk the most concise. We’re grateful to our chaplaincy team – to Yi-Ting for putting the PowerPoint together, and to Tzi-Wei , who was actually in the diocesan office all that day taking care of the zoom arrangements.  We did have a bit of a PowerPoint (PK) competition with Christ Church, who have Yu-Lin, one of our former chaplaincy team based there, well-known for her design skills – and theirs was looking very stunning too, but Advent Church was, well, definitely the best!  But Christ Church did win hands down on the yummy-looking snacks provided to their delegates, which were in full view of their camera. Ha ha, it’s the small things that matter!  It so happened that all their group of 6 were wearing blue, so they looked really well-coordinated.  St. Paul’s Church also had snacks available, we could see 2 bowls of fruit, including a plate of bright red tomatoes.  Looked good!  But the prize for overall colour coordination goes to St. Mark’s Church, who had large bright green divider boards set up to separate their meeting room from the actual church, and with these as a backdrop, so their PowerPoint also used that same bright green colour, and 2 of their delegates were dressed in bright green too – ah, l loved it! You can see them in these photos, check out the bright green! 

Convention

And so ended our diocesan convention 2022, giving thanks to God that everything went smoothly, and to the diocese for all the arrangements made.  St. Luke’s Church, Hualien had also prepared well for this convention, but then put all their arrangements on hold, so the plans are that this same time next year to actually hold the convention in person there on Taiwan’s scenic east coast.  YES!

Convention: Diocesan Office

Please pray for the 18 clergy and 15 churches in the Diocese of Taiwan, that all will be filled with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and that we can all get out of our church offices and into our local communities to share the Gospel, bringing living water and changing lives!

Every year, we take a group photo at our diocesan convention, but it wasn’t possible this year. But we do have a group photo of our 18 clergy, taken during Holy Week at St. James’ Church….

Clergy Group Photo, Holy Week 2022

Please also pray for Taiwan as we face this major Covid surge in the next few months. Although most people over the age of 12 are vaccinated, there are a large number of elderly people who decided against it, and many are now confined to their homes – they are a major concern. Our churches are facing many challenges not knowing what’s ahead, and whether services, activities, summer camps etc can go ahead or will need to be canceled or rearranged online. Your prayers are much appreciated. Thank you!

臺北大縱走 Taipei Grand Trail @ April 2022!

Yes, the Taipei Grand Trail ~ and the second time I’ve done it this year, whoop whoop! The first time was over Chinese New Year in February 2022, all in the rain and mud. Check out my previous post below for intro, photos and description of the trail – it was fun, but oh so wet!

This time, I used the official app, Hiking BIJI. Last time I couldn’t install it as it was set for only those with a Taiwan Google account, but since then the app developers have opened it up for some international users – if your country is not listed, then get in touch with them directly, they have great customer service! Anyway, this time, with the downloaded maps, I followed and recorded the route of each section, collecting ‘treasures’ as I went ~ meaning the phone pinged every so often as I passed another treasure on the map, 49 in total, 7 on each section. At the very end of the trail, this ‘Mission Completed’ notification appears on the phone ~ due to the pandemic, the 2021 project has been extended to the end of 2022….

The Taipei Grand Trail circles Taipei City, and each of the 7 sections can easily be done in a day, though some are much easier than others. It’s a fun way of seeing new places, getting some fresh air and doing a whole lot of exercise all at the same time. The weather this time round was much better than last time, sometimes hazy but mostly sunny and dry. As it’s spring, so there’s lots of flowers, birds, insects and creepy crawlies to look out for ~ including the endemic, gregarious and very beautiful Taiwan Blue Magpie 臺灣藍鵲, 3 of which kept us entertained at Lengshuikeng Visitor Center on Section 3 of the trail…

Taiwan Blue Magpie

Over the 3 weeks I’ve taken to do the Taipei Grand Trail, Taiwan’s Covid situation has seen a big change. On the day I started, Monday April 4, when we had a few days off for Tomb-Sweeping Festival, there were 275 new cases announced, of which 133 were domestic, 142 imported, and with overall deaths standing at 853. When I finished the trail on April 23, there were 5,172 new cases announced for that day, of which 5,092 were domestic, 80 imported, and deaths at 856. Some 99.5% of new cases in this surge are apparently mild or asymptomatic – and most people can quarantine at home. Those considered more at risk, like the over 75’s and those on kidney dialysis, are admitted to hospital. The government has announced their new policy of gradually loosening restrictions, allowing the case numbers to grow slowly, and relying on facemasks and vaccines rather than following Hong Kong & Mainland China’s policies of hard lockdowns and isolating every confirmed case in quarantine centres. I read that Taiwan is one of the last countries to open up its borders to the outside world, so we expect a tough few months ahead. It will also take a while for people to get used to the government not stepping in with new rules and restrictions every few days – now that everyone is vaccinated and as long as we wear facemasks, the rest they’re leaving up to us – to manage our own lives and take our own precautions. A new kind of lifestyle for many. Facemasks are compulsory mostly everywhere – though fortunately not for outdoor exercise, but it means that people are still a bit unsure what to do for the best. Activities are slowly being cancelled or moving online, and people staying home a lot more. There are noticeably less people on the Taipei MRT and the paths of the Taipei Grand Trail as the month has gone on. On Saturday lunchtime at Makong, the restaurants and tea-shops were largely empty ~ normally a sunny spring day would see them packed out.

Certificate of Completion: there’s only space for a name of 10 English letters – so Chinese name to the rescue!

There are 12 places on the Taipei Grand Trail where you take a selfie with the Chinese character on the post, which when put together in a collage produce a phrase: 臺北東西南北大縱走壯遊趣 which means something like: ‘Taipei East West South North Grand Trail’. My 12 photos go round the collage clockwise below, starting in the top left, with the middle 4 photos extra ones taken at strategic points…

Coming up below are the 7 sections, which I didn’t do exactly in order, depending on the weather and time available – with a collage of photos for each section, mostly trying not to repeat those taken back in February….

Section 1 第一段:關渡站至二子坪 Guandu MRT up to Erziping 二子坪 in Yangmingshan 陽明山 National Park: Tuesday April 5

Section 1

Section 2 第二段:二子坪至小油坑 Erziping to Xiaoyoukeng via Yangmingshan 陽明山 Datun West, South & Main Peaks 大屯山 & Zhuzihu 竹子湖: Wednesday April 6

Section 2

Section 3 第三段:小油坑至風櫃口 Xiaoyoukeng to Fengguikou via Yangmingshan 陽明山 Mt. Qixing 七星山: Monday April 4

Section 3

Section 4 第四段:風櫃口至大湖公園站 Fengguikou down to Dahu Park MRT: Saturday afternoon April 9

Section 4

Section 5 第五段:劍潭支線 Jiantan Trail: Dahu Park MRT to Jiantan MRT: Easter Sunday afternoon April 17

Section 5

Section 6 第六段:中華科大至麟光站 China Univ. of Sci. & Tech, Nangang to Linguang MRT via 95 Peak: Saturday April 16

Section 6

Section 7 第七段:麟光站至政大後山 Linguang MRT to Nat. Chengchi Univ. via Maokong 貓空 Tea Plantations: Saturday April 23

Section 7

The Tea Plantations at Maokong are of special interest – the workers were there picking the tea leaves while I was there – and so have their own collage….

Maokong Tea

All in all, 7 days hiking the Taipei Grand Trail is a great way to spend a few weeks, fitting in the sections around weekend and holiday activities. Following routes on an app and listening out for the pings is really quite interesting. It’s my first time to stick to a hiking app and complete a project that is quite so detailed. Today I went to the Geotechnical Engineering Office in Taipei to collect my certificate, scarf and keyring, all marked with the Taipei Grand Trail. YES! On every section of the trail, I met lots of people, some several times on the same route, and we all helped each other out when we couldn’t find the way, or with taking each other’s photos – sorry you have to endure so many of my selfies, ha ha, what a laugh it was to get them! Anyway, overall, selfies aside, the Taipei Grand Trail is highly recommended, and spring is maybe the best time of year to try. So go for it. YES, GO!

Easter Joy! ❤️🐣🌼

Easter Greetings to you all, if a little late! Christ is risen, alleluia!

Out today, lily down at the beach below St. John’s University!

Lent has felt extra-long this year, particularly because of the tragic war in Ukraine – now on its 54th day, but also the pandemic – with lockdowns in China and Hong Kong. Purple is always the colour associated with Lent, symbolizing repentance, royalty, shedding of blood. This is our local purple wisteria, always in flower at the beginning of April…

Here at Advent Church, we celebrated Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey as people lined the streets waving palm branches, shouting Hosanna, welcoming him as king. It was last Sunday, April 10 ….

We had a procession waving palm branches going from Advent Church around St. John’s University (SJU) main entrance…

During Holy Week, SJU students had their mid-term exams, so we rearranged some of our usual Holy Week activities. On Maundy Thursday we remembered Jesus celebrating Passover and sharing the Last Supper with his disciples, also washing their feet ~ so we had foot-washing, Holy Communion and then the stripping of the altar, ready for Good Friday ….

On Good Friday, we remembered Jesus’ crucifixion with midday prayers around the cross …

On Easter Eve, I was at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei for the Easter Vigil, when we lit the Easter fire and celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a traditional and very meaningful time for baptisms, with the symbolism of new life, new creation. I was invited by my good friend, Sheerah to witness the baptism of baby Eva and her husband, Yu-Wei’s confirmation. Big brother Ethan kept us all entertained! There was one other child baptized and nine confirmed. Congratulations to them all ~ and thanks be to God!

Baptisms and Confirmations at St. John’s Cathedral, Easter Vigil

On Easter Day at the cathedral, after the English service, we had a rare treat of hot cross buns, kindly baked by one of the congregation, so delicious!

Meanwhile, here at Advent Church, our 3 Easter baptisms were held during the service on Easter Day. One was Mei-Chin, who came to study here from Malaysia some 8 years ago, among the first group of Malaysian students at SJU. She also took part in one of our short-term mission trips to Myanmar some years ago. Finally, she has made the great decision to be baptized, ah we are all so pleased! New life in Christ ~ thanks be to God!

Our Easter celebrations take place in the midst of a big rise in Covid cases in Taiwan. Today, Monday April 18, we have 1,390 new domestic COVID-19 cases, a new record high. Every day for the last 4 days we have seen a new ‘record high’ ~ but so far, the growth has not been exponential, it’s going up by about 100-200 a day. Today’s figures: New Taipei City (that’s us!): 500, Taipei City: 270, Taoyuan: 187, Keelung: 115, Yilan County: 68. That’s all the north of Taiwan. Taiwan also reported 90 new imported cases today, 63 of them travelers who tested positive on arrival in Taiwan. The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths remains at 854.

From New Bloom: “Taiwan is experiencing its second major COVID-19 outbreak. The first outbreak began last year in May, after more than a year in which Taiwan was largely COVID-free. However, Taiwan is currently transitioning away from the COVID-zero approach it maintained for most of the pandemic to date. This is partly to reconnect with the international world, for the sake of the economy, but also is carried out noting how efforts to maintain COVID-zero approaches indefinitely in China and Hong Kong have led to explosive spikes in COVID-19 cases recently.”

“It was never an issue of maintaining COVID-zero forever, but what proves concerning for Taiwan is that first dose vaccination peaked just past 80%, with elderly individuals remaining hesitant to get vaccinated. In March, only 75.5% of individuals above 75 had one dose of vaccination, 69.9% had two doses, and 50.1% had received booster shots….. The Tsai administration has spoken of a “new Taiwan model” to transition back to normalcy. The CECC has also sought to emphasize that its goals are no longer “COVID-zero” but “zero COVID” for serious cases, with priority on avoiding overburdening Taiwan’s hospital system. As such, home quarantine rules have loosened to allow for home quarantine for light and mild cases under 65.”

Most of our church events for Holy Week and Easter went on as planned, though with fewer people due to this sudden surge, but future events are less certain. The good news is that despite 25% of over-75’s being unvaccinated (and many confined to their homes for that very reason), very few people in the active population aged between 12-75 are unvaccinated. With cases increasing relatively slowly, the government is encouraging everyone to continue on as normal, with facemasks and distancing. Many people are quite relaxed about the situation – but schools are not. They are very worried about rising infections leading to more cancelled classes and postponed activities, and are making plans for all eventualities. Here at SJU, this should have been our 55th anniversary celebration week of events, but most have been cancelled or postponed ~ better safe than sorry. Fortunately, many events are just moving online rather than being cancelled altogether. The good news is that tomorrow we can go to visit our local junior high school to distribute Easter eggs (actually hard-boiled salted duck eggs) to the children and teachers, sharing the joy of Easter with our neighbours. We’re making the most of every opportunity to share our Easter joy!

Thank you for all your Easter greetings, cards and messages. Please continue to keep us in your prayers, as we pray for you too.

St. John’s Cathedral Easter flowers

Easter Joy! ❤️🐣 🌼 Thanks be to God!

‘Easter Advent Calendar?!’ Update from Taiwan: Surviving Lent, Looking to Easter!

Screenshot

Yes, ‘Easter Advent Calendars’ are all the rage – and there’s lots available, as you can see above. This is your chance to forget the dreariness of Lent and its grim associations with fasting and penance; instead we can have a fun 24 days leading up to Easter. But get yours quick, as the 24 days have already started!

Lent feels extra long this year, and we have Tomb-Sweeping Festival coming up this weekend, plus tons of rain and miserable weather, so we need some good news to look forward to ~ and so what better than to focus our sights on Easter. Even the cherry blossom, which looked beautiful for a brief few days, has now given up waiting for the sun to return. Petals cover the ground ~ the season is nearly over for another year….

These were the moody skies along Taiwan’s northern coast at Fuji Lighthouse, LaoMei and along to Yehliu Geopark just after the rain stopped a few weeks ago. See the people queueing to take their photos with ‘The Queen’s Head’ rock?!

It’s not all bad news weather-wise, and we had a few weeks of sunshine earlier this month, and a few hiking trips up to Yangmingshan – see the sea of clouds in the distance….

And views from Guanyinshan …

While for those more interested in staying in the city, in Taipei’s Da-an Forest Park, there’s a series of water fountains that are powered by pedal power…

We’ve had nice views of Advent Church from the offices on the 5th floor too…

But then last week the rain started again, and it’s been raining more or less since then. Good job we’re all mostly indoors with the new semester well and truly underway – and my English class too….

And diocesan office February and March birthday celebrations ….

Yes, facemasks can come off for photos! Taiwan continues to do well in the pandemic, though there are still cluster outbreaks in different places, with yesterday’s headline being ‘Domestic COVID-19 cases spike in Taiwan as clusters grow’. Yesterday, there were 83 new domestic cases in 6 clusters, the highest number since last June, today there’s another 34 added to the total. One cluster of 39 is in Keelung, linked to a karaoke bar, spread to the police force and resulting in even the city’s mayor now being quarantined after he had contact with an infected police officer. Another cluster of 63 is among Thai migrant workers working on a power plant in Taoyuan. There were also 120 imported cases yesterday, 93 today. Even though a negative PCR test is required to travel to Taiwan, testing is also done on arrival at Taoyuan Int’l Airport, and a surprising number always found to be positive – 55 today. Total COVID death toll is 853.

Border controls are still strict, and the country is still closed to tourists and those without visas ~ although hotel quarantine for all arrivals is now reduced from 14 days to 10, followed by 7 days’ home quarantine. The government is saying that there’ll be some sort of quarantine requirement for the rest of this year at least. The general public continues to widely support these measures, even though individuals who need to travel overseas of course find them very inconvenient. But given the choice between these strict pandemic restrictions for arrivals, or opening up like other countries have done, and risk huge numbers of cases – so far, I have not yet heard anyone say that they think we should change track. Most of us have just had our booster shots in the last 2 months, and daily life continues more or less as normal. Wearing face masks gives us the freedom to do so much without worry, and they come in all styles and colours. Check out our ‘Stand with Ukraine’ facemasks from the Taiwan Presbyterian Church….

I just spent the weekend at St. James’ Church, Taichung. The main topic of conversation there was last Tuesday night’s series of earthquakes (the biggest 6.6 but very deep) centered on Taiwan’s east coast, which shook everyone wide awake at 1:40 am and then continued through the night. Me too. No more sleep from then on, and like most people, I was distinctly bleary-eyed for the rest of the day. People living up in high-rise buildings had by far the worst of it, but here in Taipei, it seems more people were amused to be woken by the very noisy beeping of the earthquake text alert, rather than by the actual earthquake. Anyway, things have quietened down since then. Until next time.

I was there at St. James to do the sermon at the English service. Mostly, I like to speak on the Bible readings and link in with the News if it’s relevant, but both have been hard in recent weeks. On February 20, the Gospel reading was Jesus telling us to love our enemies. Ironically, only 4 days later, on February 24, came the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Lent started on March 2, with a sermon the following Sunday on Jesus’ temptations – check out the one of power and authority over all the kingdoms of the world, so relevant to the Ukraine war. Then we had Jesus and the barren fig tree last week, with all those questions about suffering.

Elephant Apples growing at St. John’s University

There is so just much suffering in the News. In Ukraine, we see the awful suffering caused by the Russian invasion, the terrible bombing of hospitals and residential buildings, the thousands of refugees trying to escape the war. In Mainland China, we see the authorities trying to halt the recent Covid surge with lockdowns of whole mega-cities for weeks at a time, while in Hong Kong, there’s been overflowing hospitals and empty supermarkets, with the world’s highest death rates. And in Australia, we just saw the worst floods ever recorded in New South Wales, thought to be directly related to climate change. Plus ongoing crises in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, S. Sudan, Haiti and more. Plus plus plus, there’s so much more each of us could add. And all this is bad enough, but then we see governments paralyzed by political wrangling, inaction, and incompetence. It’s easy to feel frozen in horror at it all.

The war in Ukraine has had a profound effect on Taiwan, completely unlike any other war I’ve seen in recent times. The phrase, ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow?’ is much quoted in the media as a warning that Taiwan could be next. And interestingly, in response, Taiwan seems to be undergoing something of a transformation, as we watch with amazement the way the Ukrainian people have stood firm and defended their land. The Taiwan government has come out strongly in support of Ukraine, and in the last few weeks, we’ve had hugely successful donation drives, marches, rallies and prayer services. Everybody is talking about Ukraine, even small children at school. Taiwan has also watched with amazement the way the world has come together to impose sanctions on Russia. While many young people in Taiwan say they would defend Taiwan if attacked, older people, on the whole, have always been of the opinion that we don’t stand a chance and should just surrender. But now, watching the courage of the Ukrainians and seeing the world unite against the aggressor, has given Taiwan a boost that maybe that same courage and support might be forthcoming if we are next. The government is busy capitalizing on this momentum of change, and among other things, military training is already being upgraded and increased in both quantity and quality.

Taizé Service for Ukraine

And so to yesterday’s sermon, on the theme of reconciliation (lit. ‘bringing back together’) from the Gospel reading of the Prodigal Son. Last Saturday, I helped a Filipino migrant worker traveling on a bus with a lot of luggage, who was transferring from one factory job to another. She’s been in Taiwan for 3 years, and in all that time, has not seen her children. Her 2 daughters, aged 10 and 6, live in the Philippines with their grandmother. Can you imagine being separated from your children for that long? It was Mothering Sunday yesterday, and while not celebrated in Taiwan on that day, still it’s pretty heartbreaking to imagine what it must be like to be a family in that situation. But the good news is that in her new job, she’ll be able to live together with her husband, who is also in Taiwan. They work in different companies, but now they’ll be in the same area, so for the first time in many years, they can live together.

The next day, I was in Taipei visiting friends who live on the 17th floor of an apartment complex with a view over Taipei. One of those very tall and narrow buildings, that looks like the wind will blow it over, was built 5 years ago – but so far nobody lives there, all due to a family dispute between 2 brothers. Sigh.

And later that evening, last Sunday, I attended a Taizé service run by the National Council of Churches of Taiwan, to pray for Ukraine. It was held in the Jinan Presbyterian Church in central Taipei, and also attended by Taiwan’s former vice-president, Chen Chien-Jen 陳建仁, a Roman Catholic, plus other government representatives and church leaders. That day was the 25th day since the war started, and the service started with the bell tolling 25 times, once each for those 25 days.

Taizé Service for Ukraine

A Ukrainian girl read Psalm 140 out loud in the Ukrainian language. It is subtitled as a ‘Prayer for Deliverance from Evil Men’ and she read it with the expression, passion and anger that it deserves. Taipei’s Greek Orthodox priest was there in all his robes, and he led a prayer for peace. An R.C. priest read the pope’s prayer for peace in Ukraine, and one of our clergy prayed the prayer for Ukraine written by the Archbishop of Canterbury. We all lit candles and prayed for peace and justice, and an end to this terrible war.

Reconciliation. So difficult but so necessary.

There’s an interesting article below published in ‘Christianity Today’ about Taiwan churches and everyone’s willingness to pray for Ukraine, but otherwise differing responses to speaking out and getting involved in politics generally. Sums up the situation pretty much: ‘Ukraine Today, Taiwan Tomorrow’? Island’s Christians Warily Watch and Pray

This coming weekend, we’ll have a 4-day weekend for Qing-Ming aka Tomb-Sweeping Festival, when families come together to visit their family graves, cleaning them up and making offerings. In connection with that, I was at our local elementary school on Friday for a day of learning about ‘My Family Tree’. Never an easy subject for families divided and broken. Actually, it is easier to learn about the Family Tree in English than in Chinese. In English, we happily classify everyone as an aunt, uncle or cousin irrespective of which side of the family they’re on, and regardless of whether they’re older or younger than us, but not so in Chinese. Every category of relative has its own distinct title. Anyway, I wore my ‘Lee’ outfit and showed a few photos of my Lee grandparents, and the kids brought photos too (photos below courtesy of the school). Ah, it was fun!

My next sermon is not until Easter Sunday, oh so wonderful! This Lent has gone on a long long time, so I’m counting down the days. But somehow the thought of an ‘Easter Advent Calendar’ doesn’t do Lent justice. Much as most of us don’t like all that penance and fasting stuff, still a bit of self-reflection and prayer during Lent does put it all in perspective, and fits the national mood as well as the world as a whole. We can’t just ignore all the suffering and pretend otherwise. Fluffy chicks and bunnies and chocolate eggs have their place. But not yet. We still have Holy Week to come. Keep going, we’ll get there before too long!

Mini Toffee Apples & Tomatoes on sale at Jinshan

I’m grateful to our bishop who emphasized on Ash Wednesday that Lent lasts 40 days, but does not include Sundays, which are days, he said, for ‘celebrating Jesus’ resurrection’. Celebrating. Jesus. Resurrection. YES! Keep going, yep, we’ll get there before too long!

PS: The Taizé service to pray for Ukraine is on YouTube…

Lighting a candle, praying for Ukraine

Praying for Peace…

Today, February 28 is a public holiday in Taiwan for Peace Memorial Day, this year commemorating the 75th anniversary of the 228 incident in 1947, which marked the beginning of the White Terror era. Today also, a ‘host of golden daffodils’ has bloomed in Yangmingshan National Park after 2 months of endless rain, and are smiling up at blue skies, like the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Daffodils are also known as Lenten Lilies, reminding us that Lent starts this week on Ash Wednesday, and lasts for 40 days until Easter. This Lent, let us pray for peace in Taiwan, peace in Ukraine and peace with our neighbours whoever they may be.

Daffodils are also the national flower of Wales, so Happy St. David’s Day for tomorrow, March 1. And if you’re in Taipei, now that the rain has finally stopped, get yourself up to Yangmingshan to see them, they’re stunning!

Roaring Down Taiwan’s East Coast in the Year of the Tiger! 🐯

The main tiger lantern at the Hualien Lantern Festival – looks even better at night all lit up!

Escaping from Taipei’s endless rain and cold, and in search of some sun, warmth and blue skies, so we just spent this past week driving down Taiwan’s east coast. Beautiful! Yes, sun, warmth and blue skies, all so much appreciated. My 3 friends, Xiu-Chin, Ah-Guan and her daughter Ya-Ling arrived here on Monday from Taichung and Tainan ~ first stop was to visit Rev. Philip Jung-Long Ho and his wife Shiao-Lan, recently retired back here to Sanzhi from Grace Church, Tainan. So wonderful to see them again!

We set off from Taipei on Tuesday and headed east to Yilan, staying in the famous hot spring town of Jiaoxi. Most interesting is the waterfall and RC church at nearby Wufengqi 五峰旗….

The story behind the church is that some 40 years ago, a group of hikers got lost in the mountains nearby and prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. She appeared to them in a vision and guided them down the mountain to safety. The church is beautiful, especially with the red lanterns for New Year and the pink cherry blossom…

We left Jiaoxi heading south to Hualien, stopping at the cliffs….

In Hualien, we visited Rev. Joseph Ray-En Ho (son of Rev. Philip Ho), his wife Pei-Yin and children, who are based at St. Luke’s Church…

His daughter carries a specially-made cross for some of the services, and was so happy to dress up for a photo with us!

We were staying at Ji-an, just outside Hualien, where the early morning scenery was just what we needed after all of Taipei’s endless rain!

We visited Liyu Lake, and watched the inflatable ducks and fountains performing to music…

We visited the local sites, passing by the famous Hualien Starbucks – in the shipping containers…

On Friday, we drove south from Hualien along the coast to Taitung, Taiwan’s most scenic coastal route, crossing the Tropic of Cancer on the way….

The east coast beaches are beautiful!

In Taitung, we stayed at a guest house right near the old sugar factory which is reinventing itself as a big art and cultural space…

Taitung is famous for its custard apples, being sold at the side of the road, so we bought a box and took them with us….

The multi-coloured building at Dawu has had a fresh coat of paint since I last visited, it’s stunning!

Saying goodbye to the east coast, we drove over the mountains and through the new tunnel eastwards to Pingtung, where we stayed with our good friend, Ju-Zi at Wouli. Last year I stayed with her over Chinese New Year and wrote up my blog post here about my visit. It’s an amazing place, with so much history and culture, and we had a really warm welcome. Ju-Zi lives in the Dachen Village in Pingtung, and cooks the most delicious and authentic Dachen food, which she gave us to eat on Saturday night, helped by A-Chao. So delicious!

After the Sunday service at St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung yesterday, so I returned to Taipei, while the 3 others in our group carried on to Kaohsiung to see the Taiwan Lantern Festival. In fact, they went out every night in every place we stayed to see the different Lantern Festivals. There were lanterns everywhere of every kind, including tigers of course. The Lantern Festival officially launches tomorrow, the 15th day of the first lunar month, but celebrations have been ongoing throughout this month. Great to see some colour. Also great to some blue skies and sunshine. Ah yes, it was a wonderful week of traveling round Taiwan, enjoying the scenery and visiting friends. In previous years, we’ve traveled round Taiwan during the Chinese New Year week itself, but then so is everyone else. We were fortunate this year to be able to go a week later, so it was much quieter – which means no traffic jams. YES! Thanks to everyone for their hospitality and my 3 friends for their company – and driving!

🏮Happy Lantern Festival everyone!🏮

臺北大縱走 Taipei Grand Hike / Trail @ Chinese New Year 2022!

Rain, rain and more rain – and mud, such a great combination! Plenty of both to keep me wet and disgustingly dirty for a whole week. Hey, at least we had no wind, or at least not at the same time as the rain. We even had 3 whole days when there was no rain at all! Overcast maybe, cold, damp, and very wet underfoot, but rain, no. And there were even 2 days when the sun came out briefly and we had blue sky for a few minutes. Luxury! This is the only blue-sky view of Taipei City that I got, taken from Qixingshan 七星山, Day 3.

Many asked me the question, “Wouldn’t it be better to wait for good weather?” Of course, yes! But if the good weather doesn’t come, then still get out there and make the most of it! You never know what you might see. Check out this temple with the cherry blossom for example….

And so it was that the weather forecast for Taipei for the whole of the week for the Chinese / Lunar New Year (CNY) celebrations was rain, rain and more rain. 🌧️🌧️ And the weather forecast was right spot on! 😕🙃

Ha ha, the good news is that here in Tamsui on the NW coast, the weather was even worse than elsewhere in Taipei. Appreciate that fact if you live in downtown Taipei! Every day the wind howled around my house, the rain poured and everything was damp and humid. So the answer is, get out of Tamsui – that’s motivation enough, just get out. Everywhere else has better weather than here! And of course, further south in Taiwan, it was lovely and sunny all week, but that’s the way it always is. Actually, Taipei is largely deserted every CNY holiday as so many people return to their family homes elsewhere in Taiwan – and the terrible winter weather in Taipei is often an added incentive to get out of the city over the CNY time. But then again, this was Erziping 二子坪 on Section 1, Day 1 …..

We are right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite strict border and quarantine controls, Taiwan has between 20-50 domestic cases being reported every day this past week, mostly in Taoyuan and Kaohsiung in known clusters. There continue to be some restrictions, like wearing facemasks outside the house, including for photos, and we’re also advised not to go to busy places. Apart from the temples, the busiest places were the MRT trains in the afternoons coming home, but nowhere near as crowded as on a normal working day. Anyway, I did keep my facemask on – spot the red 2022 Year of the Tiger facemask….

Given all that, what better idea than to spend the very wet Chinese New Year 2022 holiday week celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Tiger by doing the Taipei Grand Hike?!

Picture the city of Taipei built in a river basin, surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, the 4th side being the river running roughly northwestwards out to the sea. Although most of the basin is built up, right of the river is actually known as Taipei City, while left of the river and far north, south, east and west is the old Taipei County, now known as New Taipei City. Taipei City boundaries go north right up to the beautiful Yangmingshan (YMS) 陽明山 Mountains, and so the Taipei Grand Trail, an initiative of the Mayor of Taipei City, goes around Taipei in a kind of semi-circle. It’s a bit confusing though, because some of the mountains that surround Taipei are officially in New Taipei City, so they are not included in the Taipei Grand Trail. Anyway, there are 12 special signposts along the whole trail, often at ‘viewpoints’ (though I hardly saw any views, only rain and fog!) with a Chinese character on the top of each one, some also with a notice of the year 2022. Arranged together, the Chinese characters spell out the phrase: 臺北東西南北大縱走壯遊趣, aka the Taipei Grand Trail. The idea is to take a selfie at each one, then combine them into a collage, for which you can get a prize on presenting the photo at the government office in charge of the trail, as a souvenir to show you’ve completed the challenge. This is mine:

While the upper slopes of the YMS Mountains are a protected national park, with lots of trails, the lower slopes are largely forested and contain lots of graveyards, temples and shrines. This being CNY, so the temples and shrines were very busy with people making offerings and seeking the blessing of the gods for the New Year.

The trail is divided into 7 sections, 5 for the northern part, starting at near sea-level at Guandu 關渡 MRT Station on the western side, going up over the YMS Mountains and down, then a branch off across the middle of the city along a hilly ridge and down to Jiantan 劍潭 MRT. The southern part has 2 sections, going along the Nangang 南港 Mountains to the east of the city, and finishing at Maokong 貓空, up in the tea plantations above Taipei Zoo. Each section is arranged to start and finish at either a Metro MRT station or a bus stop that links to one, and if you’re reasonably fit, then each section can easily be done in about 4-5 hours of walking, although there is a lot of climbing. But then it is a mountain trail, so upwards and onwards is the way to go. Total length is officially 92 km. This is the official sign…

There is one very useful website in English called ‘Taiwan Trails and Tales’ where I got a lot of information, and downloaded all the maps. Do check it out. Also interesting to learn there some of the tales of the buildings and temples that you pass on the trail. Highly recommended. There’s also a Facebook page called 臺北大縱走 where people post their photos and updates of the trail and activities.

CNY 2022 officially started on Tuesday February 1, and the whole of that week was a national holiday. We finished work a few days before the official national holiday started, and so I started the Taipei Grand Hike on Thursday January 27 with Section 1 at Guandu 關渡 MRT. Foggy at low levels to start the day, gradually the fog lifted and the sun came out, there was blue sky everywhere. The trail heads upwards all day, along the irrigation canal, through small farms, orange groves and forests, and then climbs up to Erziping 二子坪 Visitor’s Centre in the Yangmingshan (YMS) National Park.

The following day, Friday January 28, the rain came down in torrents, and I had a day off. The forecast for Saturday January 29 was heavy rain in Tamsui, but light rain up in the YMS Mountains. So off I went to do Section 2! I had done this section many times before, up and down Datun West, South and Main Peaks 大屯山 , so I knew the trail to be very wet and muddy – there’s a lot of ropes that you need to use to pull yourself up, and the paths are slippery; and I also knew that being CNY so there wouldn’t be many people there braving the elements. Fortunately, at the start of the trail, I met a man who told me he was also doing the same route that day, but with a group who would be about an hour behind me. Kind of reassuring given the weather! As it was, I then saw nobody until I got to the top of Datun Main Peak, where out of the rain and fog on the road that goes up there appeared 2 foreigners on YouBikes, they had ridden all the way up from Taipei! They said they often rode up on real bikes, but always dreamt of coming up on YouBikes. YouBikes are designed for people like me to cycle in and around the city, they have 3 gears and a basket on the front. Not for the high mountains. So crazy! But, like me, they thought that if they wait for the good weather, they may wait weeks, and given that this is the weather, then why stay home? Just do it! Ah, we love all this rain, rain and more rain. By the time I got to Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑, I was totally soaked!

Leaving the Datun Mountain Range, the path goes down to Zhuzihu 竹子湖, at the top of the valley where the farms grow calla lilies, just starting to flower.

The next day, Sunday was also heavy rain, I had another day off. In the evening, the rain stopped and a cold front came along, so Monday morning was very cold, but forecast to stay dry. On Monday January 31, CNY Eve, I set off for the highest part of the trail, Section 3, from Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑 to Fengguikou 風櫃口 via Qixingshan 七星山, 1120 m. I had also done this section many many times before; it helps to know the route! It was 6.2°C at Xioayoukeng 小油坑 Visitor Centre, and 5°C up at the top of the mountains. Brrrr! Mostly it was overcast, but it stayed dry and the sun even came out a few times, though this was to be the last time I would see the sun for the rest of the week. The trail starts with the fumaroles belching sulpur fumes at Xioayoukeng 小油坑. The views were great!

Then started a whole week of rain. Every day, from Tuesday to Saturday, I went out in the rain and came home in the rain, ah I was so damp! On Tuesday February 1, CNY’s Day 1, and Wednesday February 2, CNY Day 2, I was out in the rain doing Section 4, from Fengguikou 風櫃口 down to Dahu Park 大湖公園 MRT in Neihu. This route was completely new to me, and although the signposts were many, there were nowhere near enough, especially at 2 key areas. I tried from both ends of the trail. There is an official app, with a route map, but it’s not compatible with my phone, so I downloaded a separate map onto the phone and used that, following the route, stopping to check probably 15-20 times. I then did the same thing for every other section of the trail afterwards, although Section 4 was by far the most lacking in signposts. Now I know that on a rainy muddy day, it is definitely better to start from Dahu Park MRT and head upwards to Fengguikou, and get the bus down from there. Once you can find it, the trail is really beautiful, starting at the cherry blossom tree, going up past the YuanJue Waterfall 圓覺瀑布, then among the strawberry farms of Neihu 內湖, and up into the high forests. It being the Year of the Tiger, those forests are the kind of forest you might expect to see a real tiger, if there were any in Taiwan, that is. As it was, the only people I saw on the trail were 2 young men on mountain bikes screeching through the mud, they were so amazingly fast, and very dirty!

Thursday February 3, CNY Day 3, Section 5, and local people were starting to get out and about. The trail runs from Bishan Temple on Bishan Mountain 碧山巖 to Jiantan 劍潭 MRT. There were lots of people on the trail, mostly in family groups, everyone with an umbrella, and it rained most of the day! This section is very close to Taipei, and I had done part of it many times. The main sounds were of airplanes taking off from nearby Songshan Airport, and the chanting broadcast from the temples and graveyards. There are many graveyards up there, including a Christian one, and there are many gruesome stories told about crimes that have taken place up there, plus haunted temples. The main viewpoint was all in fog, so it all added to the eerie atmosphere! A lady asked me to take her photo at the viewpoint, holding a sign saying ‘98’ indicating the number of times she had climbed up there in the past 2 years! The trail section ends just above Jiantan MRT Station near the Grand Hotel, an old military area, and full of temples and shrines.

Section 6 marks the start of the southern section of the trail, and involves quite a journey time-wise for me to get to the far eastern side of Taipei over at Nangang 南港, over 2 hours each way. Good job I left home every day at 5:30 am to get outside to the first bus! Section 6 was done on Friday February 4, CNY Day 4, and guess what, well it rained most of the day. Light steady rain – but still, rain is rain! The trail runs from China University of Science and Technology 中華科技大學, not far from Nangang Station, going up and along and down eventually to Linguang 麟光 MRT Station. I had done the first part of this trail many times, on the stone paths that lead up to the 95 Peak. The second part was completely new to me, here the stone path finished, and instead there was mud, and more mud. But it was very interesting, even though we again went through many graveyards. One of the grave roofs was being used to feed the pigeons!

And so to Section 7 on Saturday February 5, CNY Day 5, and what a wonderful way to finish the Taipei Grand Hike. This section is a big loop, starting and finishing at National Chengchi University 國立政治大學, near Taipei Zoo and goes up to Maokong 貓空 . I had been up there on the cable car several times, but never walked up the trail, which goes right up to the cable car terminus. Much of this trail section is newly done, and it’s wonderful. It starts on the Zhinan Temple 指南宮 Trail, goes up through the cherry blossom, down to the river, and up again through the tea plantations. A huge number of steep steps, but really interesting, and full of people enjoying a day out too. It was overcast all day, and didn’t rain until I got to the bus stop to come home!

All in all, a great way to spend a CNY holiday week! Yes, I did also spend time with friends celebrating, especially on CNY Eve, and am grateful to them. I also let them know that this was my plan during the week, so they would know where I might be. Yes, I really appreciated this week of walking, hiking over Taipei’s mountain trails, seeing new things, enjoying the scenery and all that nature has to offer. Grateful also to be able to come home safely each day, and start out afresh the next. Yes, my boots were completely wet from one day to the next, and so was everything else, but it was a fun experience and exhilarating to complete it all. And yes, when the weather is better, I might well do some of those sections again – some could be combined to do two or more in a day, the possibilities are endless. Watch this space!

As long as there’s no serious weather warnings of torrential rain or storms or typhoons, and as long as you stick to the paths of the Taipei Grand Hike and don’t do anything stupid, then don’t let bad weather put you off. Go out! If not the Taipei Grand Hike, then find something to do that takes you out! Don’t regret it and stay home waiting for better weather, it might never happen. After all, if I’d have stayed home, I’d have missed all that beautiful cherry blossom. Get outside, and live life to the full!

Updated February 18, 2022: I went today to the Geotechnical Engineering Office, the government office responsible for the Taipei Grand Trail. The staff confirmed that the ‘Hiking BIJI’ app (健行筆記) which marks the whole trail, for the time being anyway is limited to those who have Taiwan listed as their location on Google PlayStore. The photo above is of me with my Taipei Grand Trail towel, collected today on presentation of my photo collage, taken at their 3D photo wall! YES! Mission Accomplished!

Hiking BIJI (健行筆記) app

Updated March 26, 2022: A friend of mine has contacted the Hiking BIJI (健行筆記) app developer and the app has now been modified to make it accessible for those in selected countries, including UK and USA. Their customer service is excellent! If your country is not listed, then contact them directly and ask them to allow your country access – but be prepared, the app is bascially all in Chinese ~ ah yes, gotta love that extra challenge!

Updated April 26, 2022: Since the Hiking BIJI became available, I have since done all the Taipei Grand Trail once again, this time using the app ~ April is a great month for the trail, it’s beautiful in spring! The post is here:

🌸 Spring means Cherry Blossom! 🌸

The first cherry blossom of the season, the dark pink variety, is out up at the Yangmingshan Mountains above Taipei …..

There’s also white cherry blossom up there too ~ the plum blossoms are over (how to tell the difference: apparently, cherry blossoms have a slit at the end of the petal, but plum blossoms don’t) ….

The gardens up there are beautiful…

And at Erziping, the blue sky is a rare treat in winter…

There are even tadpoles in the water….

And wild flowers out….

While down at lower levels, in Taipei, some cherry blossom, the light pink variety, sakura, is just starting…

At Elephant Mountain on Wednesday, the views towards Taipei City, and especially Taipei 101, were amazing….

As were the views along the riverbank to get there….

And that bizarre DNA Double Helix building, Tao Zhu Yin Yuan 陶朱隱園 in downtown Taipei was even more eye-catching than usual….

The journey back….