All posts by Catherine Lee

NCCT 基督徒聯誼運動會 Sports Day 2019!

Walking, Running, Relays, Obstacle Race, Table Tennis, Frisbee, Ball Throwing and a new game called Taspony (rules similar to tennis but using bare hands and a sponge ball): non-stop action all day! All part of the annual ecumenical NCCT Sports Day, held on Saturday November 9 here at St. John’s University (SJU).

The National Council of Churches of Taiwan (NCCT) 台灣教會合作協會 is affiliated with the World Council of Churches, and in Taiwan it consists of 6 member churches – Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Orthodox, Methodist and Lutheran. There’s also 11 member organizations, the Bible Society, Christian AV Association, Mackay Memorial Hospital, Tainan Theological College & Seminary, Taipei Christian Academy, Taiwan Christian Service, Taiwan Theological College & Seminary, The Garden of Hope Foundation, World Vision, YWCA and YMCA.

The Sports Day is organized by the different churches and organizations in turn; this year it was the turn of Taiwan Christian Service 台灣基督教福利會, and they asked to hold the event here at St. John’s University. Taiwan Christian Service is a relief agency, founded in 1954 by the Church World Service and Lutheran World Relief. The short sermon at the opening service of the Sports Day was given by Rev. Liu Ren-Hai of the Lutheran Church, who is also chair of Taiwan Christian Service.

The bishop of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, Bishop David J. H. Lai has always made the ecumenical Sports Day a big priority and he attends every year, competing in the Table Tennis competition, and this year was no exception. Participation by different churches over the years comes and goes ~ this year there were 6 teams in total, from the RC Church, Taiwan Christian Service, YMCA, YWCA, Episcopal Church and a small team of 9 from the Presbyterian Church. Some years, the Roman Catholics and Presbyterians choose to participate in big numbers – their indigenous church members are so strong and always win every tug of war race with one slight jolt on the rope (at least, that’s my impression of the last time the Sports Day was held here at SJU, back in 2012!) The team with the most colourful T-shirts were in bright orange – despite their name, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Organization) had almost equal numbers of men and women, and on inquiry they said that they were all working at the YMCA Hotel in Taipei – I told them we always recommend their hotel to visitors – it’s a good place!

This year the Taiwan Episcopal Church had by far the largest group of participants. St. Stephen’s Church, Keelung sent a bus of 35 church members, the teenagers and children to join the sports, the older ones for cheer-leading and singing. A group of about 20 came from St. John’s Cathedral and a similar group came from Advent Church and our student fellowship at St. John’s University. So we had all ages and all abilities…

And we had a great time! I was in the 400 m walking race, and part of the team of 20 for the relays and the obstacle race (which included a sack race, hopping, jumping through the hoops and running with the sack back to base). Ah, it was all fun!

At lunchtime, we had performances from the cheer-leading teams or songs and dances. St. Stephen’s Church senior group sang some choruses, they were so lovely!

Awards were presented to individual winners as well as to the teams. The Taiwan Episcopal Church came out as overall winners, and Rev. Philip Lin accepted the cup on behalf of the church from Fr. Mbudi Masela (CICM, based at Qidu, Keelung, originally from the Congo), and then the RC Church received the award for the most energetic team, presented to Fr. Masela by Bishop Lai.

Thanks be to God for great weather, great spirit and energy, and lots of fun, fellowship and laughter! The weather was indeed wonderful – this is the SJU campus that afternoon after everyone had gone home, looking splendid in the late afternoon sun…

And so we’re looking forward to seeing everyone again next year!

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2019!

Or as I prefer, the ‘West-East’ Vertical Traverse! This is THE mountain challenge for all those looking for a day out from Taipei – a 10-hour hike over the 10 mountains in the Yang-ming Shan range that lie just above Taipei City. It’s 25 km, almost 1,700 m of ascent and about 45,000 steps in total. And totally worth it!

This is my account of my trip last Saturday, October 26. Spring or autumn is the best time to do this hike, because summer is too hot (and it rains nearly every afternoon) and winter is too wet. You need a number of dry days before the actual day, otherwise the paths are slippery, especially the roped ones! The only other time I’ve done this hike all in one day was in May 2018 (see that account here) but the route has slightly changed since then, with one of the summits (Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 ) now closed to the public – to avoid the cattle, which are actually a mix of water buffalo and Tajima cattle, after someone was killed by one last year. The summit marker post has also been moved to the highest point on the Lengqing Path, and renamed Jixinlun 雞心崙.

Fortunately the whole hike can be done in more manageable and smaller sections – it divides nicely into 4, which can be done over 4 days or 2. That’s what I was doing on free days during the summer, and I would get home before the thunderstorms rolled in during the afternoons. If you take the harder option, and do it all on one day, be prepared for aching limbs for 3 days afterwards – it’s hard work!

On each of the summits, there is a marker post, and on the top of each post is a Chinese character in metal ~ use a pencil and paper to do like a brass rubbing (or just take a photo!) Put together in order and these characters make a phrase. The 10 Chinese characters are: Mt. Ding (“陽”), Mt. Shiti (“明”), Jixinlun (“山”), Mt. Qixing East Peak (“東”), Mt. Qixing Main Peak (“西”), Mt. Datun Main Peak (“大”), Mt. Datun South Peak (“縱”), Mt. Datun West Peak (“走”), Mt. Miantian (“活”), and Mt. Xiangtian (“動”). The whole phrase, 陽明山東西大縱走活動 translates as the ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse Activity’. These are the 10 posts (left to right in the order I did them) and 10 Chinese characters (kind of left to right in the correct reading order) below….

Although it is titled the East-West Traverse, and the marker posts are numbered in that direction, actually it is easier to do it from west-east, mainly because of the times of the buses. The east end of the hike is a place called Fengguikou 風櫃口. The bus stop is about 1 km down the road from there, at a place called Fengguizui 風櫃嘴. The bus is the small city bus M1 (市民小巴1) from Jiantan MRT Station, and there’s not many of them! Every morning, the first bus leaves Jiantan MRT Station at 6:10 am going up to Fengguizui, taking about 30 minutes. The next bus after that is 10:10 am, so don’t miss it! The Taipei MRT opens at 6:00 am each day, so for those of us further away, it’s impossible to get to Jiantan MRT Station so early.

You also need to know that the final M1 bus of the day from Fengguizui down to Jiantan MRT goes at about 6:10 pm. That is the one to get! If you miss it, you have to walk down much further to Shengren Waterfall Bus Stop where there are many buses, but the road is long and winding, and the short-cut paths are steep – plus by then it’ll be dark, so timing is everything!

The other reason for finishing at Fengguikou rather than starting from there is that the final part of the hike may be be long (6 km from Qingtiangang 擎天崗) but it is the least steep part of the whole hike, and after a long day going up and down, it’s nice to take things a bit more easily!

So all in all, I think it’s better to start at the west end of the hike, which is at Qingtian Temple 清天宮登山口 and walk eastwards. The bus you need is the S6 (小6) bus from Beitou MRT, and there are lots of buses all day long. Also lots of people on a weekend all queuing for the early buses! Get there early. The earliest I could get to Qingtian Temple on Saturday was at 7:20 am. Qingtian Temple village has a temple or two, a public toilet and a large noticeboard with a map. The whole trail is very well-signposted as long as you know the order of the mountains. The trails on Yang-ming Shan were mostly built in the Japanese Era, and they were built to last forever, mostly of stone. This is the view from Qingtian Temple Trail-head over towards Guanyinshan…

The trail from Qingtian Temple to the first summit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 takes just over an hour, going via the usually-water-less Xiangtian Pond. I was on the grassy summit (949 m) at about 8:30 am and 20 minutes later, reached Summit 2, Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) at 8:50 am. There’s a viewpoint and raised rest area there, 2 huge microwave reflectors and views down to St. John’s University and the whole northern coast. But as it was alternating cloudy and sunny all day, so views were limited. That was a relief in a way, I didn’t have to keep taking photos! This is the silver-grass, at its best in the autumn….

Taking the path straight down from Mt. Miantian leads back to the main path. Turn right for about 10 minutes heading to Miantianping 面天坪, where there’s a pavilion always full of people enjoying a day out. The path up to Mt. Datun West and South Peaks (and eventually to Mt. Datun Main Peak) starts here, on the left. The Datun Mountain range 大屯山 lies ahead. This is the steepest part of the whole hike coming up. Bring some cheap gloves to cling onto the fixed ropes that are provided to help you haul yourself up and down. Be prepared for aching arms and shoulders the next day!

The ascent of Mt. Datun West Peak 大屯西峰 is steep and exhilarating, with lots of large rocks to get over. The top (985 m) is mostly rocks too, and the descent is equally steep, so it’s better to go down backwards. At the bottom, head on to Mt. Datun South Peak 大屯南峰, which is a shorter but even steeper climb than West Peak. However once you get to the summit (959 m), that’s it with the ropes (and the gloves), they won’t be needed any more on this hike. The descent is much easier. Berries en route to attract the birds….

The path brings you out ready to hike up to Mt. Datun Main Peak 大屯主峰, which is a bit of a slog up endless stone steps. The summit (1076 m) is high up above the path, there’s a viewpoint, and it’s the top of the road for the cyclists who like to come up on their bikes from Taipei. On Saturday, it was mostly foggy, so no views, but on a clear day the views of Taipei are great. By then it was almost 11:00 am. 5 mountains down, 5 to go. We’re half way – yes!

Then follows a long walk down from Mt. Datun Main Peak, either by road, or by path to the Anbu Entrance. I took the path, it comes out at the road, and there you turn right. Heading to the next big mountain, Mt. Qixing ~ and it is easier (but definitely not so pleasant) to walk along the main road. There are buses, cars and cyclists coming from all directions, but following the trail along down below the road is mossy and often slippery, and takes ages. I walked along the road – to the junction, then cross over and turn left, walk up to the car-park and up over the small grassy hill – spurred on by the call of the coffee shop at Xiaoyoukeng!

At Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑遊客服務站, the fumaroles were spouting forth tons of yellow and white sulphur gases, stinking the place out. They are fun to check out. There’s also a visitor’s center (with maps, displays, water machines to refill water bottles, and friendly National Park people to answer all your questions), toilets and coffee shop.

Now, spurred on by coffee, it’s time to launch forth up the highest mountain of the day, Mt. Qixing 七星主峰. The newly-restored path is beautiful. This is always the place with the most people. And yes, it was heaving, but it’s not a difficult climb, in fact it’s fairly manageable even for people more used to walking in high heels on city streets, hence the vast numbers of people going up at the weekends. I got to the top (1120 m) at about 1:00 pm, and there was a line of about 30 people queuing to take photos at the big summit post. Fortunately for me, nobody was interested in the small marker at the side, which is the one what I needed to take a photo of. About 20 minutes later, I got to the top of the Mt. Qixing East Peak七星東峰 (1107 m), where there was a line of about 10 people all trying take photos of the only summit marker. I joined the queue – but I was the only one not wanting myself in the photo!

The descent is long – and usually crowded with people. I got to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站 at about 2:00 pm, time to refill the water bottles, drink hot chocolate, eat snacks and chat with all the many visitors. It was at the visitor’s center that the guides told me that the Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 summit marker had now been moved, due to the path closure, and is now renamed as Jixinlun 雞心崙, the highest point on the Lengqing Path. You walk eastwards from the visitor’s center on the path, cross the bridge and turn right towards the pond. At the pond, turn left up the steep steps. At the top of the steps, turn right, and about 5 minutes later is a viewpoint, and the marker is positioned there.

By 3:00 pm, I had arrived at Qingtiangang Visitor’s Center 擎天崗遊客服務站 which was also full of people. Everyone was there to relax on the grass, and see the cattle. There were plenty of big fat buffalo, all lazing around, and all very smelly. 8 summits down, 2 to go. At this point many people give up and go home by bus. The next section and challenge is to cover 6 km (plus a further 1 km by path / road to the bus stop) to get to the eastern end of the trail at Fengguikou. But this is also the nicest part in many ways. The trail alternates between forest and grassland, finally getting to the summit of Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (863 m). I got there about 4:00 pm. The fog had lifted, and there were good views. The sun was beginning to go down and the light was special. But I didn’t want to hang around. I had a bus to catch and the light was fading ahead…

By 4:30 pm I was at the final summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m), and from there, on down to Fengguikou Trail Head 風櫃口登山口. At the car-park, there’s a path immediately to the right that goes from the trail head to cut off the winding road, but it’s steep, and it was dusk, so I took the long winding road, also to the right, heading towards Shilin, which took ages. But the sun was setting, it was lovely!

I arrived at the Fengguizui Bus Stop at about 5:30 pm, and waited for the bus at 6:10 pm, in the dark with a group of students and other walkers coming down from Yang-ming Shan. The phone signal is very poor in that area, so you have to move around a bit. This is the altitude diagram of the hike…

And guess what? As I was standing at that bus-stop, in the dark, on a remote mountainous road in a far corner of the Yang-ming Shan mountains, one of those students waiting with me suddenly asked me if I was Teacher Catherine from St. James’s Kindergarten in Taichung. I was and I am! It turned out she had been in my class when she was 5. She’s now at university, and this is the first time we’ve met since. Amazed that she should recognize me after all these years. But Taiwan is that kind of place, you never know who and where you might meet some lovely person who knows you!

This is a highly-recommended, but a bit-of-a-killer hike! Two days later and I am still aching all over, especially going up stairs. Grateful for cool weather, not much sun, no mud, dry paths, friendly people, hot coffee and hot chocolate, easy access, good and cheap public transport, friendly and knowledgeable National Park staff, clear signposts, lots of silver grass, energy, free time and strength – and unexpected reunions at bus-stops!

Thanks be to God!

Congratulations and Farewell to our Friends from Latin America and the Caribbean!

Many congratulations to our 18 trainees from Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as they complete their 11-week course and prepare to leave Taiwan at the end of this week! Saying farewell is never easy, but we’re doing it the right way, which means making the most of their last week, with many farewell events. The photo above was taken at the party at my house last Wednesday ~ and this afternoon, the Latin American guys kindly invited me to a Ceviche lunch party… ah it’s all fun!

The group have been here since mid-August participating in the “2019 Latin American and Caribbean Countries Vocational Training Project: Electrical and Electronic Engineering 拉丁美洲及加勒比海地區友邦技職訓練計畫-電機工程實務技術英語班”, in association with ‘Taiwan ICDF‘, and hosted by St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei. Last Friday, October 25, we had our closing ceremony at Fullon Hotel, Tamsui where all participants received their certificates and awards. It was a Very Grand Occasion!

The event was held along with Hungkuang University (弘光科技大學) in Taichung, who are also hosting a group of trainees from Latin America and the Caribbean, also through Taiwan ICDF; their course is in Tourism and Hospitality, and they all came up to Taipei for the occasion on Friday. Our group is 16 men and 2 women, while their group is 21 women and 4 men – their group also has trainees from 2 additional countries, Honduras and St. Kitts & Nevis. We were honoured to welcome the very lovely Ambassador of Nicaragua (and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps), William Tapia, who gave a really inspiring speech, in which he said that he too had started out as a scholarship student in Taiwan 55 years ago and it had changed his life. We only have 2 women trainees in our engineering group, Lyanne from St. Lucia and Svetlana from Nicaragua; Ambassador Tapia told me that the word for earth in Spanish is “la tierra”, a feminine word – so he said that the earth belongs to women, and the future is in our hands! Yes, we really do need some more women engineers in this world, and Nicaragua and St. Lucia seem to be the place to find them! We had a large group from St. Lucia at the closing ceremony, in fact, as a whole, the Caribbean participants vastly outnumbered those from Latin America. The largest group of trainees in total were from St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and we were honoured to welcome their ambassador, Andrea Bowman to the closing ceremony. We also welcomed Bishop Lai to give the opening prayer. There were displays around the room of some of the projects, with our professors on hand to explain as necessary. Three or our group were also interviewed by the university reporter…

The whole project is run by Taiwan ICDF (International Cooperation and Development Fund), part of Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, under a scheme known as ‘Vocational Training Courses for Allied Countries’. A number of VIP guests from ICDF also came to the ceremony, including Mr. Yi-Fang Chen, Counselor. Each trainee received a certificate of completion, presented by SJU President Herchang Ay, and there were also individual awards for excellence (to Herberth from Guatemala) and for Public Spiritness (to Ian from Belize). Speeches were given by trainees, and videos shown of the courses. Trainees from both universities then joined together for group photos taken country by country along with their ambassador or representative, they also received gifts to take home as souvenirs. Group photo of everyone…

Photos below show each country – plus the individual presentations….

Belize…

Guatemala…

Nicaragua…

St. Lucia…

St. Vincent and the Grenadines… (with Ambassador Tapia taking a photo in the foreground!)

Honduras and St. Kitts and Nevis – all their trainees were from Hungkuang University…

The first prize for the most amazing outfit from our group has got to be Ashton from Belize who came in a black suit and hat, with red shirt and red shoes. Sunglasses added to the style, so cool!

After the ceremony, we had photos and more photos, followed by the buffet lunch at the hotel. A great day indeed!

This is the 5-minute video shown by our group at the closing ceremony, showing what they’ve been up for the last few months….

Lots of congratulations to everyone, with many thanks to our SJU team for all their hard work – and especially to our 18 trainees as they prepare to say goodbye to Taiwan at the end of this week and return home to their families and their jobs – sharing with others what they’ve learned while they’ve been here. Wishing them all a safe journey ~ and many blessings on their future lives!

PS. Updated, Friday November 1: our trainees have all left! 😢😢Country by country, the first group departed for the airport last night, 3 more this morning, and I accompanied the final group, Nicaragua to the airport at lunchtime today (that’s us in the above photo) along with Jun-Hong, standing on the far left – he’s been the airport 4 times in the last 24 hours! They all have long journeys ahead, via Europe or USA, but they all reach home sometime on Saturday, their time, and the 3 Nicaraguans, Moises, Svetlana and Carlos all start back at work at 7:00 am on Monday morning!

Goodbye everyone, we will miss you, but we’ll never forget you. It’s been great welcoming you all to Taiwan. God bless you all!

Battle of Tamsui @1884 Commemorated on the Danhai Light Rail

Qing Defenders

Just down the road from St. John’s University, in the northern part of Tamsui Town, there’s a new light rail, called the Danhai Light Rail Transit. It opened last December, kind of circuiting around Tamsui – it’s not very fast, but it’s comfortable and I use it often, for cutting off Tamsui when I’m coming back from Taipei City…

Light Rail Train with ‘1884’ on the front

This month one of the trains has been decorated to commemorate the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Tamsui, part of the Sino-French War. This is the first train on this line to be themed in this way; let’s hope there’s many more to come – cos Tamsui has a whole lot of history worth commemorating!

“The war arose from a dispute between the Qing and the French over control of Tonkin (northern Vietnam). France launched an attack on Keelung and Hobe (Tamsui) in a bid to capture northern Taiwan and extract concessions from the Qing Imperial Court. Though Keelung was captured by the French, Qing defenders managed to hold the Tamsui River mouth and prevent French warships from sailing directly into Taipei. The war started in August 1884 and ran until the French withdrawal in June 1885.”

The train is decorated on the outside, and inside at each end too, to let you imagine you’re really on one of the ships going into battle….

Completely unrelated to the Battle of Tamsui, there’s plenty of beautiful art work on each station, and a few months ago, we spent 2 whole afternoons getting off at every stop, taking photos and getting back on again. The trains run every 15 minutes, currently between Hongshulin and Kanding. The views are good too – these photos were taken this afternoon…

For a full account of the Battle of Tamsui, check out the Wikipedia entry here, there’s lots to learn!

South to North up Taiwan’s West Coast with our 18 Friends from Latin America & the Caribbean!

Smiles all round in honour of Taiwan’s Double-Tenth National Day last Thursday, October 10 ~ and the start of a 4-day weekend for us all! And what a good opportunity it was to show our 18 international friends some of the great cultural sights of Taiwan. 😊 The group are now on the final stretch of their 3-month “2019 Latin American and Caribbean Countries Vocational Training Project: Electrical and Electronic Engineering 拉丁美洲及加勒比海地區友邦技職訓練計畫-電機工程實務技術英語班”, in association with ‘Taiwan ICDF‘, and hosted by St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei. In a few weeks time, they’ll all return to their home countries of Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and we’ll miss them! Here they are celebrating Taiwan’s National Day …

Last week, the group were in south Taiwan for a 3-day Solar Energy Course at the National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology, where Dr. Herchang Ay, SJU President, is in charge of the Apollo Solar Car Team. The group traveled there on Monday morning by High-Speed Rail (see photo below), and the plan was that we would join them on Thursday morning to make the most of the 4-day weekend, traveling back to Taipei by coach, via all sorts of interesting places en route along the west coast.

Thus it was that we spent Thursday in Kaohsiung, Thursday night and Friday in Tainan, Friday night and Saturday morning in Chiayi, and from Saturday afternoon to Sunday lunchtime in Taichung, returning to St. John’s University along the west coast road on Sunday evening – trying to avoid the traffic on the final day of the long weekend. We saw a huge lot of really great places, so many in fact that there was hardly any time to rest on the coach in-between stops! Here’s the group posing at the first stop of the day…

There were 4 of us from SJU, A-Tu, me, Xiang-Yann from Malaysia and Jun-Hong. We also had a very good tour guide, Thomas, and a very patient driver, Mr. Chien. A-Tu and I went to Kaohsiung on Wednesday afternoon, stayed the night at St. Paul’s Church (thanks to Rev. C. C. Cheng and his wife!) and met up with our lovely group on Thursday morning at Weiwuying – my most favourite place in all of Kaohsiung – I just love all that wall art! It was good to hear our group’s reflections on their few days in south Taiwan – all positive, and they enthused about how friendly all the people were down south. It’s a fact – the further south you go in Taiwan the friendlier the people – and this was the experience of our group too. As we traveled around these past few days, many people would come over to meet us, some to enquire about the guys’ long hair or where they’re all from or to take a photo together, ah it was fun! Anyway, after the wall murals, we walked across the road to visit the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, which is a stunning building, but it was very hot and muggy, and the sky was hazy. It is ‘air-pollution season’ in Taiwan, and while the weather forecast may have shown days of yellow sunshine, in reality, it was mostly hazy and dull. And very very hot! 🥵🥵

Then we visited the Glory Pier and the Pier 2 area, plus Xiziwan. More hot, hot, hot! In fact, we had to cut short our afternoon sightseeing to save us all from getting heatstroke, and off we went to spend an hour enjoying the air-conditioned Dream Mall instead! As it was Taiwan’s National Day, so there were flags everywhere …

Day One over, and in the evening, we drove an hour north to Tainan, where we stayed overnight in the Sendale Tainan Science Park Hotel, in Sinshih (Xinshi), Tainan. The best thing about Sinshih is that when we got up early for exercise the next morning, we discovered the very delightful nearby Sinshih Elementary School, where everyone was busy doing exercise, the school open-air pool was full of people swimming, and best of all, the school walls were covered in mosaics and murals, all done by the children to show the history of the town – including the arrival of the early missionaries. I loved it!

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan, and the first capital city, so the first must-visit place was the National Museum of Taiwan History. This museum was a big surprise to me – not only had I never been there before, actually I had never even heard of it either! It was opened in 2011, and is located in what seems to be the middle of absolutely nowhere, somewhere on the coast ~ but the museum is a beautiful building and the displays are excellent. Thomas took this photo of us at the main entrance…

Y’know, it’s not easy for a government to construct a good museum telling its own history from an objective viewpoint – and as far as it goes, they’ve done a good job, and especially in presenting the history of Taiwanese customs and also the big section about the Japanese colonial era. There’s lots of interesting displays and everything is in English and Chinese. One day hopefully the museum will also extend the displays to include more about the indigenous people, Christian missionaries and churches, and what really happened during the White Terror era. Anyway it’s a highly recommended museum, and our group spent a long time looking at all the exhibits – and taking part, as appropriate!

Next stop, and we were off to Tainan City to see the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park ~ this is an old ‘dormitory village’ of houses originally built to provide accommodation for government workers and their families in days gone by, but now reinvented for visitors to come and see, and of course, to come and shop…

We also visited Snail Alley ~ I liked the old buildings – and, well, also the snails!

The best place of the whole afternoon was the Hayashi Department Store, which I loved, it has a really fascinating history, dating from the Japanese colonial era, and it was new to me. Their website says, “On December 5th, 1932, Hayashi Department Store opened and thus a modern age of Taiwanese culture began. The decade of 1930s was the start point of modern civilization in Taiwan. As the electric lamps, telephone, and water supply lines popularized, symbols of civilization such like the airplane and motor vehicles flooded into Taiwan. The cafés were becoming the fad of the day, as well as pop culture, movies, phonographs and jazz music. People´s mentality was opening up, and freewill dating was taking over arranged marriages, while dresses were replacing kimonos and Westernized education was popularizing. This was Taiwan in the 1930s”. On the top floor, there’s a very unusual Shinto shrine, there are also great views down to the road below, plus glass-covered walls that show where the building was damaged by air-raids during World War II. After the war, the building became mostly offices, but these days, it’s transformed once again into a shopping experience, though it has retained its original charm and elegance. I really liked it!

We didn’t visit the Confucius Temple, which is usually No. 1 on a historic tour of Tainan, but we did go to Anping Fort (aka Fort Zeelandia), built between 1624 to 1634 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). After wandering around the fort, we stopped at the Old Street and also watched a folk tale performance in front of the temple. Our group had a go at the games, and Jun-Hong got himself a temporary tattoo of a tiger!

So that was Day Two, and after dinner, we set off for the hour-or-so drive north to Chiayi, where we stayed in the very stylish Kuan Hotel, on the outskirts of the city…

Day Three was Saturday, and we were all up bright and early for the world’s biggest breakfast in the hotel restaurant. All of our lunches and evening meals were in Chinese restaurants so this was a chance to have something a bit different – plus lots of coffee ready for the day ahead! Our first destination of the day was the very famous Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum; this was my second visit. My first visit was when Chiayi hosted the Lantern Festival in 2018 – with lots of people and a really festive atmosphere. This time it was far more relaxed and a chance to enjoy the lake and the architecture, there was also a special exhibit on Thailand – and large elephant inflatables in the main entrance! I really like this place, it’s spacious, well-designed and full of interesting things – but not too many – just the right size for a visit!

The most famous object in the museum is the stewed pork / meat-shaped stone: “The 5.73 cm tall Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) piece is made from banded jasper in the shape of braised pork belly”….

So that was Chiayi – and after lunch we drove north for 90 minutes to Taichung, our fourth destination of the trip. We visited Miyahara, “a red-brick architecture built by Miyahara Takeo, a Japanese ophthalmology doctor in 1927. It was the largest ophthalmology clinic in Taichung during the Japanese colonial period. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Miyahara became the Taichung Health Bureau”. After years of decay, it has now been reinvented as a restaurant and ice-cream shop, and designed like Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We also visited the Shenji New Village, but there were so many people, we didn’t stay long. Instead we decided to check into the hotel, then head to dinner and a quick visit to the Fengjia Night Market, most famous of all Taichung’s night markets – check out all those zillions of people!

Day Four arrived and there we were in the WeMeet Hotel in central Taichung. I lived in Taichung when I first arrived in Taiwan, from 1999-2006 and I kinda know my way around, so we were up very early to go and visit the nearby Taichung Park. The park is famous for the pavilion built in 1908 for the visit of the Japanese Emperor’s son to launch the railway – it’s the iconic symbol of Taichung, and looks good lit up in the darkness.

A-Tu and I wandered on and found Taichung’s oldest church, Liu-Yuan Presbyterian Church 柳原長老教會, built in 1915, which has a notice saying it is the only church in the world with dragon-shaped waterspouts… well, you learn something new every day!

And then we walked to the nearby site of the famous Yi-Zhong Night Market, which in the very early morning was distinctly less lively than it would have been some hours earlier. This is where I used to come for my language classes, and every day I would pass a church on the corner opposite the night market – an old wooden building, surrounded by a parking area. That church was originally a Japanese Anglican (NSKK) Church, but when the Japanese left Taiwan in 1945, there being no Taiwan Anglican / Episcopal Church at that time, so it was handed over to another church group. The building was still there until about 15 years ago, when it was demolished and a large retail building put up, with the church relocated to the top floor. You can see it in this photo. The lower floors are obviously let to Adidas – aka the Adidas Church?

My favourite place in Taichung is the Rainbow Military Dependents Village, famously saved from demolition by 97-year-old Mr. Huang, who started to paint the walls in beautiful designs, and over some years succeeded in saving his village. It is now a major tourist attraction, which is why we were there, but Mr. Huang is still the main focus, and he was posing for photos and enjoying the well-deserved attention. The government has stepped in and restored some of the buildings, and it is looking even better than before, while still very much retaining its original character. There are huge construction projects going on nearby, so soon the village will be a little oasis in the middle of a high-rise community…

After Rainbow Village, we went to the new National Taichung Theater, designed by Japanese architect, Ito Toyo, with lots of curved walls, under-floor air-conditioning and all sorts of sound caves and air-holes. We had an excellent volunteer guide who was really passionate about showing us around and explaining the design; he also took us inside the actual grand theater. His enthusiasm was so wonderful, infectious even – a very highly recommended tour!

So that was Taichung. We had one more place to visit, and that was on the way home, when we took the coastal road north to escape the worst of the traffic and visited the Miaoli Wind Farm, which was just visible far off in the sea – Taiwan’s first offshore wind farm, and on track to begin commercial operations by the end of this year…

And so we arrived back at St. John’s University on Sunday evening soon after 7:00 pm, grateful that everything had gone smoothly, thankful for our guide and driver, for good food and drink, and for all the amazing places we’d visited. This was a tour focused on Taiwan’s cities and urban areas rather than scenic landscapes, but as one of the group said, “We have plenty of beautiful scenery back home, but we don’t have high-rise cities – so that’s what we want to see!” And we certainly did see many, also a lot of baroque architecture which was the architectural style chosen by the Japanese to build Taiwan’s cities during the colonial era, 1895-1945. Now it’s just nice to back in the big open space by the sea that is St. John’s University, with the mountains in the background, and where the air is relatively less-polluted and the temps are definitely cooler. Ah yes, being away on a bus for 4 days really helps you to appreciate being home!

Thanks to SJU for all the planning and organizing of the whole trip, thanks to everyone in the group for being so lovely, and thanks be to God that everything went so well! YES!

Celebrating Taiwan’s Double Ninth / Chong-Yang Festival 重陽節!

Today is the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, known as Double Ninth Festival or Chong-Yang Festival 重陽節 and in Taiwan, it’s a special day for honoring all senior citizens. Yesterday I was in Taichung at St. James’ Church and the Rev. Lily Chang kindly invited me to stay on after the services for their Chong-Yang Festival lunch in a nearby restaurant. All those aged 65 and over were invited to join – and they had a few spare seats, which is how I got to be there too. The oldest there was 86, and the youngest had just turned 65 this year. Several were retired clergy and their wives, also one clergy widow. One of the main things to eat is long rice noodles – to wish for longevity. No wonder everyone lives to a great age in Taiwan!

On August 8, Double Eight, Taiwan celebrated Father’s Day (eight is pronounced ‘ba’, so 8/8 is ‘baba’, the word for ‘father’) but that was according to the Gregorian Calendar, not the lunar calendar. And this coming Thursday is Double Ten 10/10, Taiwan’s National Day, again according to the Gregorian Calendar. My neighbours assure me that this is the best kind of holiday for them, as Gregorian Calendar holidays do not require ‘bai-bai’ (ancestor or temple worship), so they’ll get a break. October 10 is a holiday, and we worked last Saturday in lieu of this coming Friday ~ so a four-day weekend is coming up, yes!

Remembering Taiwan’s 921 Earthquake 20 years on

Today is September 21, known in Taiwan simply by its date in numbers as ‘921’. Every year, on this day, we remember once again the huge 7.3 earthquake that hit Taiwan on September 21, 1999 at 1:47 am, exactly twenty years ago today. So immense was the tragedy that the event is forever engrained in the country’s consciousness, and remembered simply as ‘921’.

The facts speak for themselves, 2,415 deaths, 29 missing, 11,305 seriously injured, 51,711 buildings completely destroyed, 53,768 buildings severely damaged, widespread power and water outages, NT$300 billion (US$10 billion) worth of damage to infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, power stations, roads and bridges, and a total of 12,911 aftershocks in the month following the main tremor. The epicentre of the earthquake was in the town of Jiji, Nantou, up in the central mountains near Sun Moon Lake.

I arrived in Taiwan in January 1999, based at St. James’ Episcopal Church and Kindergarten, Taichung City. In September 1999, I started teaching. Our first classes of the new school year had only just opened. A group of us teachers lived on the 4th floor above the church, and that is where we were when the earthquake struck. In the darkness of that night, at 1:47 am, we were all woken by the prolonged shaking and by the noise of bookcases, ceiling boards, pictures and ornaments crashing to the ground around us.

Taichung is about 45 km (30 miles) from the epicentre of the earthquake, so we did not experience the total devastation that the town of Jiji suffered. At St. James’ Church, none of our buildings fell down, and nobody was killed or even injured. We all survived, though shaken mentally and physically. Soon, however, the number of large aftershocks became more frightening than the original earthquake; and fear of going back inside the buildings led us to sleep outside in the park for several nights, and then on the ground floor in one of the kindergarten classrooms for several weeks. We were joined by colleagues and friends who were too scared to sleep in their own homes, often located in high-rise buildings. When electricity was restored we could access the computers in the church office, but that was on the 6th floor. We had no laptops or mobile phones, everything had to be done in the church office, and we didn’t dare use the lift, so we walked up the stairs. Responding to messages from around the world, we were constantly on edge lest another aftershock should hit at any moment – and hiding under the desk when another one did. Eventually, it was felt safer to tell international friends not to contact us for a few weeks, rather than risk our lives going up to the 6th floor to answer them.

Seeing leaning high-rises or collapsed buildings, listening to people’s stories, and hearing reports of the devastation and loss of life in areas of Taiwan not far from us, it became impossible to comprehend the immensity of it all. It was easy to get angry with incompetent, corrupt builders for shoddy construction work or with the government for a lack of response, but underneath were deeper questions. Why should one high-rise building collapse when all the others on the estate of the same size and design were left standing? Why should one person die in the earthquake and another survive? Where was God in all this turmoil? Or was everything just down to fate or luck?

Looking back now, we know that God was with us – in our shock, in our doubts and in our questions; even when it seemed that God had forsaken us – or, if he hadn’t forsaken us and our community, he had clearly forsaken many others. God was there too in the quiet moments, in the silence of disrupted lives, in the unanswered questions, in the desire to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible.

T. S. Eliot, in his book of poems, Four Quartets, talks about the ‘still point of the turning world’.

Could there really be any meaning in such tragedy, or any calmness in the storm?

One of our beloved members and my good friend here at Advent Church, Janet Tan, sadly died recently; and at her funeral last month, her family chose the theme of ‘Turn, turn, turn’ based on the 1960’s song by the Seekers, reminding them of their childhood. The words are taken from Ecclesiastes 3:1: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” They made T-shirts at their family company with those words on the front. I wear mine often. It’s a fitting tribute to Janet; she gave witness that in this ‘turning world’, the still point is found in Christ.

Last month we also observed the tenth anniversary of Typhoon Morakot, Taiwan’s deadliest typhoon in recorded history. In August 2009, the typhoon brought many days of torrential rain to southern Taiwan causing catastrophic flooding, mudflows and landslides that left 673 people dead and 26 missing. Some of us from northern Taiwan went down to help in the relief effort. Ironically, today, September 21, as we remember the 20th anniversary of the 921 earthquake, here in northern Taiwan we have heavy rains and winds brought by another passing typhoon; even the annual kite festival held just up the coast has had to be postponed until tomorrow.

This past week, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati have both announced that they are switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China. Taiwan is left with only 15 allies in ever-increasing political isolation. Over 200 students from those countries who are studying here in Taiwan, mostly on Taiwan government scholarships, are left facing an uncertain future. The ambassadors from those 2 countries visited St. John’s University (SJU) in April to take part in our 52nd anniversary celebrations, with a view to possible technological partnerships with SJU in the future. The exciting start that we had with those partnerships will now not progress any further. This week too, I had only just finished editing the next issue of the diocesan Friendship Magazine (containing a report of those SJU anniversary celebrations) when the news came through, and now I’ve had to add a ‘Stop Press’ to explain. Politics aside, there’s no doubt that this is very sad news for those personally affected.

Such is our ‘turning world’ of earthquakes, typhoons and political crises. Finding the ‘still point’ is a challenge. T. S. Eliot’s words have been adapted by David Peace and Sally Scott (1989) and engraved on the glass door of St. Catherine’s Chapel in Norwich Cathedral: “Reach out to the silence at the still point of the turning world / Except for the still point, there would be no dance / Love is itself unmoving / only the cause and end of movement / timeless”. It also illustrates the lines, “Will the sunflower turn to us, will the clematis / Stray down, bend to us; tendril and spray / Clutch and cling”, the illustration showing how the sunflower and clematis grow towards the light, that is ‘at the still point of the turning world’. I visited Norwich Cathedral last year, and loved that engraving on the door.

Today I looked at the readings given for my next sermon in a few weeks’ time. It includes Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” He is the ‘still point of the turning world’. That’s my challenge today on this 20th anniversary of the 921 earthquake, and every day. To ‘be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him’. My challenge – and yours.