Category Archives: Taiwan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t nature amazing?

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

Taipei Railway Workshop 臺北機廠: One of Taiwan’s Best-Kept Secrets!

Yes, this has just got to be one of Taipei’s biggest and best-kept secrets so far. ‘Biggest’ because it’s massive – nearly 17 hectares, and set right in the middle of prime real estate in the downtown Xinyi District of Taipei City, right there within sight of Taipei 101 and the financial capital of Taiwan. Wow!

And ‘best-kept’ because it’s really amazing. Nothing much has changed over the years, it’s still a real place. Do not be put off by the title of ‘workshop’, which may be heaven to an engineer, but to the rest of us, it sounds grim ~ though it’s true, it was a working workshop until 7 years ago when it closed down, and work was transferred to Taoyuan. And it’s not yet far enough along to be given the title of ‘museum’, so that’s something of a relief too (think tons of tourists, souvenir shops, entrance fees and everything preserved behind glass). Instead think of trains and railways, think travel, think steam engines, think places to go, places to visit, holidays, adventures and excitement. After all, isn’t that what railways are (or surely should be!) all about?

For that is the wonder of the Taipei Railway Workshop. It’s a rare piece of industrial heritage that was so recently used that it still smells like it’s in use today. This is where it all happened. This is the place where trains were built and furnished, repaired and stored, and sent out around Taiwan. This is the place from where Taiwan emerged into the modern world. A world where people and goods could travel easily from one place to another, in hours rather than days, and all in relative comfort.

You can imagine almost 2,000 men working there, many for the whole of their working lives. In more recent times, women joined the workforce, mostly in administration, but it was primarily a man’s world. The times of checking in and out for work and breaks are still there for all to see. Machines and tools are still in place. Some work has started on restoration and renovation, but there’s so much still to do, and that’s the fun thing. It’s still raw, still fresh, still oozing with history and atmosphere from a bygone age.

It was the Japanese Colonial Administration in Taiwan (1895-1945) who built most of the railways, and as everyone will tell you, even today, while Taiwan cars drive on the right side of the road, the trains follow Japanese convention and run on the left. Some of the Japanese gave their whole working lives too, to building the Taiwan railways. The Taipei Railway Workshop was one of 3 built in Taiwan; this one is by far the biggest, the present buildings date from the early 1930’s. That’s some history!

Until recently I had never heard of this place. The first I heard of it was this post here, by Josh Ellis on his photography blog: https://www.goteamjosh.com/blog/tprail Do check it out for all the information, plus the details for how to book on a tour.

Currently the workshop is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and only for guided tours (so far all in Chinese) that must be pre-booked online (also all in Chinese). I went on Saturday morning, with a weather forecast of heavy rain, but fortunately none came; just as well as it’s mostly outside and the tour was over 2 hours. There were lots of children and their parents, and I have to say they were totally absorbed for the whole morning. So was I!

We went everywhere and saw everything. There’s workshops and trains and engines and machinery and even the old bath-house where the workers would wash after their day at work…

There’s a team of people working there to get it all restored and renovated, which is great, but it’s good to go and see it now before it gets too renovated, restored and museum-ized.

NOW IS THE TIME!

One of our much-loved retired clergy in the Taiwan Episcopal Church is Rev. Peter D. P. Chen (陳德沛). He and his wife, Rev. Elizabeth F. J. Wei were ordained together as deacons at Pentecost 1993, and then as priests in September 1997. Peter spent his whole career working for the Taiwan Railways Administration and for the past 5 years before retirement, from 1995-2000, he served as Managing Director of the Taiwan Railways. If you Google his Chinese name you’ll see him on You Tube! I was delighted to tell him I’d been to visit the Taipei Railway Workshop, which he was once in charge of and helped to get preserved as part of Taiwan’s heritage. This is the 3 of us, these guys are just so lovely!

Ah yes, Taipei Railway Workshop ~ it’s a great place. Do go and check it out!

The Very First Banksy Exhibition opens in Taipei!

Banksy: The Authentic Rebel” Exhibition has opened in a Taipei Shopping Mall, and it’s great! Free entry. On until March 24.

There’s 25 art pieces on display, and it’s all arranged by Phillips the auction people – apparently the first Banksy exhibition in Taipei!

The Girl with Balloon screen print is perhaps the most famous, it’s now worth £80,000 after the shredding of the canvas at an auction last year. “Created as a stencil street art piece in 2002, the image of a young girl with her hand stretched toward a heart-shaped red balloon has become a symbol of political protests — such as during the Syrian civil war in 2014″….

Quoting Picasso, Banksy wrote on his post: “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge — Picasso” …

These are my favourites at the exhibition…

And the one that made me smile is the one with the shopping trolleys, titled ‘Trolley Hunters’...

So if you’re in Taipei this week, then do go and visit!

人山人海 ‘People Mountain, People Sea’ and fun at the Taiwan Lantern Festival 台灣燈會 @ Pingtung 屏東 Dapeng Bay大鵬灣 !

So many many people, all there to enjoy the Lantern Festival, and, ah yes, it was great!

The end of Chinese New Year celebrations is marked by the Lantern Festival, and in Taiwan, each local government organizes an event that lasts for about 2 weeks or so; but the main Taiwan Lantern Festival is hosted in turn by one of the county or city governments, and each year it gets bigger and more spectacular. Last year, Chiayi hosted the event around the Southern branch of the National Palace Museum, which itself is an amazing building set by a lake, so the natural setting added to the spectacle. This year it’s been the turn of Pingtung, and fears that its remoteness at the southern end of Taiwan would put people off turned out to be completely unfounded. People came in their millions, over 11 million in total!

We’ve just had a 4-day weekend in Taiwan in connection with 228 Memorial Day, and it also coincided with the last 4 days of the Taiwan Lantern Festival in Pingtung. So, not being one to miss any opportunity, and with my good friends, Ah-Guan and Xiu-Chin inviting me to go with them, off we went to Pingtung to see it all for ourselves: YES!

The event was held at Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area 大鵬灣, a beautiful lagoon right on Taiwan’s SW coast, near to Donggang Town東港鎮. Donggang is famous for its tuna, so this year, the county government decided that rather than taking this year’s Year of the Pig as the main lantern, instead they would choose a tuna. Quite a canny move really, seeing as they’ll then be able to use that same lantern again every year! Actually fish have a big symbolic role in Chinese culture and New Year celebrations, so it’s not completely bizarre. And the main tuna lantern was positioned right in the water, so it looked amazing, and every half an hour the music played and the lantern revolved one whole circle, changing colour as it did so.

The main Taiwan Lantern Festival has a huge budget and is always really well-organized with large numbers of lanterns of all shapes, sizes and designs on display, and this year was no exception. The beauty of Dapeng Bay, with the setting sun over the water, added to the attraction. Highlights were the nightly shows by Ilotopie, a French theater company who perform on water, plus the main tuna lantern, and the drone performance by Intel, which was amazing.

On Thursday, I left home in the cold and wet soon after 5:00 am to catch the first bus out of here, then onto Taipei to try to get a seat on the high-speed rail to Kaohsiung. It being the start of a 4-day holiday, tickets had sold out weeks ago, but there’s always a chance of a seat in the non-reserved carriages if you go all the way to Nangang Station, where the trains start from. It’s worth it, honest! And so we arrived at Dapeng Bay at 1:00 pm, to find it was 29°C and hot, hot, hot! The displays look good in the daytime, but of course it is at night that the place really comes alive. In fact, the site was so huge that we never got round it all, and never saw any of the indigenous or Hakka lanterns which were at the far end. But we did go up the viewing platform and saw a bit from the air. Loved it all!

And we did manage to meet up with Rev. Richard Lee and his family and friends who had come for the day from St. Timothy’s Church, Kaohsiung. So good to see them!

By evening, the people were pouring in, and it was so packed out that you could hardly move! Numbers were calculated by the local telecom operators through operating mobile phones and news reports say that 1.67 million attended on Thursday night – and it felt like we met most of them! The good thing is that Taiwan people are generally cool, calm and collected, and so the massive numbers of people moving around in the dark in restricted areas, like crossing a bridge, and with minimum security or police control, all proceeded slowly but surely. This kind of event anywhere else in the world would be a nightmare for everyone, but it all just went along smoothly. Ah, I just love Taiwan!

But we did have to wait ages and ages for a bus back to Kaohsiung, 3 very long hours in fact, all standing in line. l heard that there were 900 shuttle buses working non-stop, mostly ferrying people to local train stations, but for those going of us further afield, the distance to the motorway meant there were long traffic jams. And so it was that we arrived back at Kaohsiung, where we were staying, at 1:30 am, after quite a long, hot day. But hey, it was worth it – it was quite spectacular, and if everyone is going along, well, I always like to be there too!

And for the rest of the weekend in Kaohsiung? Well, we checked out my favourite place of Weiwuying, where all the wall murals are – to see any new ones…

And we walked to Siwei Elementary School to see their beautiful mural too, this one titled ‘3rd eye dog’ by Spanish artist Okuda San Miguel

Also down to Kaohsiung Port area, Pier 2, where everyone was enjoying themselves. All the old warehouses have been converted to art spaces, shops and restaurants, and it’s an up-an-coming place to be, especially at sunset!

And so is the nearby Love River…

We also visited ShouShan Zoo in Kaohsiung, which is up a hill so it’s a bit cooler. Very cheap at only 40NT$ entrance fee and a nice place to wander around escaping the heat of the city below. Most famous at the zoo are not the actual zoo animals themselves but the wild monkeys who now hang out around there and steal everyone’s sandwiches. Easier to photograph were the animals lying fast asleep. The most charming was the pygmy hippo swimming up to the glass where all the children to see him close up.

And finally we went to Tainan, where our good friend, Rev. Philip Ho, vicar of Grace Church, Tainan is recovering really well after surgery on his head, after he fell over during a basketball game a few weeks ago. He was so happy to see us! We stayed on to go to Grace Church on Sunday morning, then I came home last night. Even got a seat on the HSR train from Taichung onwards, so I was happy.

Really big thanks to my good friends for their invitation, organization, photo-ops and all the fun…

And that’s the end of the Lantern Festival for another year – next year it’ll be the turn of Taichung, and I just can’t wait!

Goodbye Taiwan!

Gotta go when you gotta go ~ and so goodbye Taiwan until next year!

So much going on and so little time ~ so a small selection of other people’s photos of the last few weeks.  Teaching, preaching, eating, drinking, sightseeing and more…

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And, my friends from Taichung who came for the weekend ~ we went on the Pingxi Line and to Shifen Waterfall.  Ah, selfie heaven!

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This is the alternative Pingxi Line set of photos – the ones I took – ah, gotta love ’em all!

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It’s time to go when it’s time to go ~ and all UK people in Taiwan apparently know that to prepare for a 6-month visit to the UK, just before they leave Taiwan they must go to visit the dentist and hairdresser – cos both are so expensive in the UK, and not so easy to arrange either – but here, ah it’s wonderful!

So that done, I’m ready to go!  Prayers appreciated…

Chiang Kai-Shek Official Residence 士林官邸 & Martyrs Shrine 忠烈祠 @ Shilin, Taipei

Chiang Kai-Shek (CKS), ‘leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in exile in Taiwan’, arrived in Taiwan in 1949 with his wife, Soong Mei-Ling.  A year later, they moved into their new home, the Shilin Official Residence 士林官邸 and stayed there until Chiang Kai-Shek’s death in 1975.  Visitors were many and famous, including then US Vice-President Nixon in 1953, and President Eisenhower in 1960. This is the building today….

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During the Japanese Colonial Era (1895-1945), the building was the location of the Shilin Horticultural Experimental Station, and surrounded, of course, by beautiful gardens.  These days, house, chapel, pavilions and garden are all open to the public.  The gardens are free, the house costs NT$ 100 entrance fee for ‘general visitors’ (that’s most of us), and a free audio tour is available in English and other languages.  No cameras or cellphones are allowed inside the house, so I have no photos of the inside, sorry about that.  Just use your imagination…

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The gardens are popular with many local people and visitors.  Deservedly so.  The flowers and shrubs – especially the rose gardens – are beautiful, all well-maintained and with lots of colour.  There are workers everywhere tending to the plants.  As a result, I think the gardens are much better than even the botanical gardens in Taipei. Check out these photos..

The house is also popular with tourists.  Lots of them, and mostly from overseas.  I went to visit the house for the first time today, a little reluctantly I admit.  Chiang Kai-Shek is nowhere near as popular these days as he used to be – as more and more of the truth of what really happened under his rule is brought to light.  But then every country has its own terrible secrets, and the UK is no exception.  So I tried to go with an open mind to learn…

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Firstly, the house, as a house, is really lovely, and each room is decorated and furnished beautifully in a mixture of Chinese and western styles.  And with no cellphones and cameras allowed, the atmosphere is like a real museum.  It’s a serious place.  Many of Taiwan’s historical places, in an effort to attract tourists, have brought in tons of touristy things to do, which many would say lowers the tone considerably.  Shilin Official Residence shows how it can be done properly.  The audio tour though is due for a remake.  It’s similar in style to the CKS Memorial in Taipei, full of how wonderful the Chiangs were, presenting their daily life as idyllic, and their relationship as perfect.  Intriguingly, their Christian faith is central to the presentation.  Chiang Kai-Shek had a large picture of Jesus in his room and the story of how he became a Christian (through his wife and her parents) and the couple’s daily prayer and Bible reading habits are well-explained on the audio tape.  His faith, of course, only adds complexity to the whole paradox of his life and actions, but that is for thought and discussion another time, another place.  There’s also a chapel in the grounds where the couple and their visitors attended Sunday services.

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And there’s a grand piano, made of plants…

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And it just wouldn’t be the same without any mascots of any kind, so at the back of the gift shop near the main entrance to the gardens, are Chiang Kai-Shek Teddy and Soong Mei-Ling Teddy, ready for your photos…

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Oh yes, and Soong Mei-Ling’s Cadillac, with an interesting number plate (Chiang Kai-Shek’s own cars and all his official possessions are at the CKS Memorial in Taipei)…

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From the Official Residence, going around Jiantan Mountain, it is not far to the Grand Hotel, also built by Chiang Kai-Shek, and not far from there is the Martyrs Shrine – officially known as the ‘National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine‘ 國民革命忠烈祠, also built under the orders of Chiang Kai-Shek, and dedicated to the war dead of the Republic of China…

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I’ve passed by this place many times, but today was my first visit.  And the main reason for going to the Martyrs Shrine is to see the Changing of the Guard, which happens every hour on the hour throughout the day (can also be seen at the CKS Memorial and the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei)…

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I was there for the 12 noon ceremony, the hottest time of the day and just before the rain came down – got there as the tourists were just arriving…

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The guards stand completely still and swelter for a whole hour in their uniforms, while their assistants mop their sweaty brows and generally keep them from keeling over in the heat.  There are 2 guards at the main entrance, and 2 more up at the entrance to the actual shrine.

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The Changing of the Guards Ceremony involves 5 of them marching up to the shrine, changing the 2 guards up there, then they march back again and change the 2 at the front, and perform at both places.

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Amazing choreography.  Worth it for that alone.

Due to an incident at CKS Memorial a few days ago, when protesters threw red paint on the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek (see that news report here) the actual shrine was closed to visitors today.  All the other buildings in the compound were closed too, like this one….

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And probably will be for some time to come.  So we watched from afar – along with at least 3 coachloads of tourists, mostly from the USA, who arrived for the Changing of the Guard just as it was starting and left immediately it finished.  This was taken after they’d all gone. Quiet once again…

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Just before the rain came down…

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So, do go to visit both places with an open mind – in order to learn something of the recent history of Taiwan and the Republic of China.   No country’s history is devoid of war and conflict, and Taiwan has plenty of both, much untold and unresolved.  It’s well on its way in trying to bring to light events of the past, but progress is slow, protesters are restless, and many are the struggles and stumbling blocks in the road ahead.

Farewell Sanzhi & Hello Taipei!

Yes, said a fond farewell to Sanzhi 三芝 this week – the town / district where I’ve been living for the past 3 years ~ and of course said a sad (!) farewell to all the termites who had seriously taken over my house – and my life!   This photo below shows where I was living in Sanzhi – in this vast housing estate of flats / apartments  ~ and it was great!  I was on the ground floor facing into the central area of the estate.  Lovely neighbours ~ and very safe, central and convenient for buses and shopping.  The building next door, on the right, used to be a bowling alley, now it’s a large shop selling everything, and very reasonably priced.

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Sad really that I moved, cos I like Sanzhi (well, in spring, summer and autumn!) especially the early morning walks along the river, watching kingfishers, water lilies, lotus flowers, enjoying the mountains and fresh air ~ and the nearness to the sea.   My farewell tour on Wednesday evening was to the local scenic spot – the lighthouse at Fugueijiao 富貴角, on Taiwan’s northern tip, looking splendid in the sunshine – originally built in 1896, and only open to the public in recent years.

Now I’ve moved back to St. John’s University ~ which is officially part of Tamsui, not Sanzhi.  Actually I’ve moved my stuff back there, and I’m now staying in Good Shepherd Church, Shilin, Taipei for the next month – where I have 2 weeks of classes starting on July 30.  Shilin is an urban / suburban area of northern Taipei, famous for it’s night market, National Palace Museum and for the foreign community who live in the hills above Shilin, enjoing the cooler weather.  The church is at the other end of Shilin, near the river and on a main road full of traffic, but with nice sunsets like this one last night.  The mountain in the distance is Guanyinshan 觀音山, over at the end of the Tamsui river, and the large round building in the foreground is part of Yang-Ming High School across the road…

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And the local scenic landmark in Taipei is of course Taipei 101.  Must go, must see!  Today the weather forecast was rain, and as I write this, it is pouring down ~ but this morning the rain stopped for a few hours, the sun came out and I took this photo from Elephant Mountain (Xiangshan 象山), behind Taipei 101.  The best views of Taipei are to be had up there, and from the mountains behind too – but oh so hot and humid to climb in the summer.  Worth it for the views though, can see for miles!

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And why have I moved? Well, I’m off to the UK in mid-August for 6 months ‘home leave’, and the plan is that when I come back to Taiwan, all being well in February 2019, then I can live once again at St. John’s University – though in a different place than I was in before I moved to Sanzhi.  In case you’re wondering, no I’m not moving because of the termites, I think I’d become quite fond of them 😉😉….  and anyway they give me a good illustration for tomorrow’s sermon. Thanks guys 😍😍!