Today, Friday, June 3, is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, so it’s Dragon Boat Festival! And we have a day off to celebrate, yippee! The dragon boats were racing today in Taipei – what I like better is the large dragon made from rice plants growing along the river in Guandu, Taipei ~ it’s quite amazing….
It’s also the Queen’s Jubilee in the UK ~ but here in Taiwan we’re celebrating Dragon Boat Festival, mostly by eating and giving zongzi in large quantities. Zongzi are sticky rice dumplings made in a triangular shape, with a variety of fillings, meat, eggs, peanuts, etc and steamed or boiled, depending on where the zongzi are from. They’re wrapped in bamboo leaves, and tied up in string, served warm…
Our church and chaplaincy here at St. John’s University and Advent Church have been giving out 3 zongzi to each of our students who receive meal coupons. Here’s our team busy packing them up a few days ago…
Because the rice is sticky and glutinous, people say not to eat too many at once! One is enough, and they’re really delish!
The other activities today are temple parades and bai-bai offerings at family shrines, and balancing eggs at 12 noon. Check out the traditions in this article here. Lots of activities are of course canceled due to the pandemic. We’re in the middle of a big surge of Omicron that took off just after Easter. This time, the government has decided not to lock down but instead to open up, and to use this as a way of moving from a policy of Zero-Covid, which we’ve been following until now, to Living with Covid. For about the last 2 weeks, we’ve had about 80,000 – 90,000 new cases every day (though with lower numbers recorded every weekend), with 90-145 deaths each day. The numbers are expected to peak soon – actually they’re already going down in Taipei, but still going up in the south. Life is still going along, work continues for most people as normal, but schools have been closed for a week or more, set to reopen in the next week. Restaurants have been badly hit, with far fewer people eating out, and the Metro is on a reduced service. Good job summer is coming, and we can get out and about more. The plum rainy season is still with us, once it’s over, then temperatures are set to rise, and summer will officially be here. It’s gonna be hot in those facemasks! Get ready everyone, things are heating up!
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…
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.
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 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 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 4 第四段：風櫃口至大湖公園站 Fengguikou down to Dahu Park MRT: Saturday afternoon April 9
Section 5 第五段：劍潭支線 Jiantan Trail: Dahu Park MRT to Jiantan MRT: Easter Sunday afternoon April 17
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 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
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….
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!
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!
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:
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….
That was 2 days of beautiful sunshine and warm weather, a rare treat in Taipei’s winter. Loved it! We had one day like that in December, and now 2 days in January. Gotta smile 😬 it’s now finished ~ and the rain is back, cold front on its way. And the weather forecast for Chinese New Year next week is rain, and more rain! 🌧️
And let’s celebrate the traditional American way, which includes turkey ~ so these are our Thanksgiving Turkeys, made last Friday at Xingren Elementary School, each child writing what they are thankful for – photos supplied by the school. Just in time for Thanksgiving on Thursday November 25.
This may be the first time I’ve ever really taught anything about Thanksgiving, but it’s on the curriculum for English classes in Taiwan’s elementary schools, and I am helping out with some classes once a month, so here we go! This is possibly my favourite…
Actually, Halloween is also on the curriculum, but I am distinctly less keen on celebrating that – so for October’s class on Halloween we focused on ‘What are you afraid of?’ which included everything from cockroaches to ghosts, from earthquakes to Covid-19, followed by ‘What do you do when you’re afraid?’, which included hiding under the table in an earthquake – holding onto a table leg, running away from fierce dogs, asking for help, being brave, and even maybe praying ~ as appropriate. It all fits very nicely with the well-practiced earthquake drills and pandemic precautions that are now part of daily life. And we finished with a traditional but pandemic-friendly Halloween game of stacking cups…
As you will see from the photos above, facemasks are compulsory all day and every day, though we are allowed to take them off for photos. Apart from a few old Covid-19 cases that have resurfaced when the person went to be tested for travel overseas or a hospital stay, Taiwan has actually not had any domestic Covid-19 cases now for about 2 months, so that is good news. Most days, the figures are about 8-10 imported cases, no domestic cases, no deaths. Border controls continue to be very strict, with 2 weeks of mandatory hotel quarantine on arrival in separate rooms (even if you’re a couple), followed by a week of self-health management at home. Some modifications are being made to cope with the thousands expected home to celebrate Chinese New Year, they’ll be allowed to do their second week of quarantine at home, but with huge fines promised to any who break the rules. Meanwhile vaccinations continue apace, and our students are now in the middle of receiving their second dose.
Earlier this month, we made our first visit since May to the international students at Chung-Chou University in central Taiwan for a service. They’re from Uganda and Eswatini, and during the Level 3 Restrictions in the summer, they were grounded for several months in the factories where they work part-time earning their school fees. While all the girls still look the same, the boys are definitely fatter than I remember them ~ no exercise for months! After the service we usually have pizza, and they said they’re really enjoying eating something different – and how much they appreciate their classes now that they’re in-person once again.
You can see from the photo that the students are all wrapped up, even though for me, coming from north Taiwan, it actually felt very warm that day. It’s autumn, and the weather fluctuates almost daily from hot to cold, wet to dry. On Saturday, and in fact every Saturday for the past month, it’s been rainy, foggy and windy. These were the autumn leaves up in the mountains this past Saturday, wet but very beautiful….
Today, Monday, it is again driving rain and wind, with temperatures dropping by the minute, forecast to be 13°C by tomorrow. But yesterday was a day of hot, sunny weather, 30°C! I was doing the sermon at the English service at St. John’s Cathedral, Taipei followed by doughnuts and Bible Study, then decided to cycle home by You Bike – 35km along a very meandering river path, past some new street art and all the way to Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf…