Category Archives: Taiwan

Meanwhile in Taipei…. Banksy Exhibition @ Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

The world is in the middle of a devastating pandemic, the USA has had a terrible week with riots in the Capitol, the UK is in chaos with Brexit and lockdown. And meanwhile, in Taipei…..

A Banksy Exhibition has just opened at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. From Wikipedia, Banksy is an “pseudonymous England-based street artist, political activist, and film director, active since the 1990s. His satirical street art and subversive epigrams combine dark humour with graffiti executed in a distinctive stenciling technique. His works of political and social commentary have appeared on streets, walls, and bridges throughout the world.”

This is only the second Banksy Exhibition to be held in Taiwan, the first one was held in a Taipei shopping mall in March 2019, organized by Phillips Auction House. It consisted of 25 of Banksy’s pieces arranged in a small gallery and as there was free entry, so lots of people – and especially young people went to visit.

This new exhibition, which runs until April 5, is much bigger, with 60 artworks on display, and with an introduction attached to each one, written originally in Chinese and translated (sometimes not too well, it has to be said) into English. Some are enlarged photos of the original work in situ, others are displayed in settings designed to look similar to the original, and still others show ways in which the original work has been adapted for use on record covers, posters etc. It’s all artistically laid out and the displays are professional and sleek. But it comes at a price, unfortunately, and the entrance ticket is steep, NT$ 350, so not surprisingly far fewer people seem to be visiting. And despite Banksy’s own disdain for gift shops, there is of course a real ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ experience for those with lots of money and a desire to buy something with the ‘I love Banksy’ logo….

Much as I admire Banksy’s work, I cannot subscribe to the ‘I Love Banksy’ logos, mugs and T-shirts etc etc. Much of his work is completely unlovable, and that is surely part of his intention. His aim is not for us to love him or even like him – or his art works. Instead he wants to challenge, convict and change our thinking – and of course that of the establishment too – and then act accordingly. His themes are mostly political and social, against war, authoritarianism, greed, poverty, hypocrisy, despair, power….

The exhibition is hardly beautiful or a pleasure to the eyes, but it’s not intended to be that way. Banksy’s works originated mostly as street art, and really they belong on the streets, not in an exhibition in a country and culture far away from their original setting. Much of the information around each piece goes into explaining why such a piece might be necessary in the first place, meaning the context and background. While some political and social themes are common worldwide, such as war and poverty, others are much more localized, eg supermarket giants like Tesco taking over UK high streets. Such art is thought-provoking, yes, but pretty, no.

Which brings me to the real reason why I was intrigued by this exhibition. It’s not the content as such. Or the artistic layouts and displays. And certainly not the commercialism of the brand name. It’s the setting itself. The exhibition is being held in the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, in downtown Taipei. If you’ve ever visited Taiwan, you may well have been there to view the honor guard performances that take place every hour on the hour in front of that huge bronze statue of Chiang Kai-Shek on the top floor.

Quoting from Wikipedia, Chiang Kai-shek (1887 –1975) was a “Chinese Nationalist politician, revolutionary and military leader who served as the leader of the Republic of China between 1928 and 1975, first in mainland China until 1949 and then in Taiwan until his death….. In 1949 Chiang’s government and army retreated to Taiwan, where Chiang imposed martial law and persecuted critics during the White Terror. Presiding over a period of social reforms and economic prosperity, Chiang won five elections to six-year terms as President of the Republic of China and was Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death in 1975, three years into his fifth term as President and just one year before Mao’s death.

One of the longest-serving non-royal heads of state in the 20th century, Chiang was the longest-serving non-royal ruler of China having held the post for 46 years. Like Mao, he is regarded as a controversial figure. Supporters credit him with playing a major part in unifying the nation and leading the Chinese resistance against Japan, as well as with countering Soviet-communist encroachment. Detractors and critics denounce him as a dictator at the front of an authoritarian regime who suppressed opponents”.

So now, 40 years after the CKS Memorial was built, here we are in 2021, no longer with a Kuomintang government; instead President Tsai Ing-Wen and the Democratic Progressive Party are in power. They are doing much to uncover the truth of the White Terror era, and working for transitional justice and reconciliation. Controversy surrounds what to do with the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Building, with that huge bronze statue upstairs, while downstairs there is a large permanent exhibition showing photos and artifacts with labels praising every aspect of Chiang’s life. Outside on the Freedom Plaza are where all sorts of protests and gatherings take place. The government is now trying to transform the hall into a national center for “facing history, recognizing agony, and respecting human rights” and there have been several exhibitions held that are critical of Mainland China, in earlier days some also critical of Chiang Kai-Shek himself. Also on display, mixed up among all this politics, and in a bid to attract visitors – especially families, is a whole host of weird and wonderful alternative displays, ranging from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to a massive set of 3D paintings…

And now, ironically, the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall is hosting an exhibition of artwork by Banksy, exactly the kind of political activist that authoritarian leaders – like Chiang Kai-Shek – always detest so much. If Banksy were really here in person, the CKS Memorial Hall may be the kind of place he’d start with for some of his protest art, stenciling up a picture long after dark. After all, what the building represents is way more than just a memorial to a fallen leader. It’s ironic really on so many levels, that instead of undercover street graffiti done in the dead of night, Banksy’s artwork has gained pride of place in one of the exhibition halls of the actual building, with a huge price tag to go in. Such is life in modern consumer society. In so doing, his subversive street art has become almost mainstream. A dark irony too, as sadly, mainstream art often loses its purpose somewhat of being a voice to challenge, convict – and change.

Of course, this could be purely a financial arrangement between the company who are curating the exhibition – and the CKS Memorial Hall, and maybe it’s just pure chance that the Banksy Exhibition happens to be showing there, rather than anywhere else – in that they had a free space at the right time and right price.

But then again maybe not. Almost certainly the government would have to give permission for what is shown at the CKS Memorial. Maybe the government is showing the world again that free speech and peaceful protest are marks of a well-developed democratic society, and that there’s nothing to fear from those who challenge us to turn from war and hatred ~ and instead to strive for justice and peace in this often dark world.

In the context of praying for a peaceful transition of power in the USA, and for God’s mercy for all those affected by Covid-19, lockdown and Brexit, then the above picture is appropriate. This is Banksy’s work, usually referred to as ‘Girl with Balloon’, but its actual title is ‘There is Always Hope‘. I like that. Think about it as you look at the picture. Ultimately, what it means for you, of course, is up to you to decide for yourself. That’s art. ❤️

Advent Church & St. John’s University Charity Fundraising 2020 @ 天主教福利會 ‘Cathwel Service’, Shenkeng 深坑, Taipei

Cathwel Service (Cath-wel is short for Catholic Welfare) 財團法人天主教福利會, is the Taiwan branch of the US Catholic Relief Services, founded in 1949, originally to help unmarried mothers and their children. It continues its ministry helping disadvantaged women and children; many of the children have special needs, others have various disabilities. Some will be adopted by families in Taiwan, some by families overseas (you’ll find lots of info about their experiences of international adoption via google), others will remain at the centre until they reach adulthood. Currently there are about 40 children living at the centre, called Jonah House – with different age children on different floors. We visited yesterday, and saw some of the youngest children, and met some of the staff. All the other children attend local schools during the day. Despite the cold temperatures and rain outside, everyone there was so warm and friendly!

Our visit came as a result of our Christmas 2020 Charity Fundraising Events at St. John’s University (SJU) and Advent Church, which raised a total of almost NT$ 250,000 for the charity (see the previous post for details of our charity bazaar). Thanks be to God ~ and to everyone who contributed!

We visited as a group of 8, representing both SJU and Advent Church. We were also able to collect the official receipts, which will be distributed to all those who made a donation, so that they can file their tax returns. The Cathwel Service CEO, Ms. Yen-Chi Ting, presented an official Certificate of Thanks in the chapel, first to our SJU chaplain, Rev. Hsing-Hsiang Wu, and then to Mr. Ming-Chuan Chen, our Advent Church senior warden.

And us altogether…

The chapel is stunning! It is in the basement area of the building along with the carpark, but it is below an open area above. I gather it used to be a fairly traditional RC chapel until it needed renovation due to a badly leaking roof last year.

Fr. Fabrizio Tosolini (杜敬一神父) is an Italian RC priest who has taught the Bible for many years at Fu-Jen RC Seminary, Taipei. Many of our clergy have also studied there under him, including our SJU chaplain, Rev. Wu, so he was able to describe to us the meaning of each picture. Fr. Tosolini is a member of the Missionary Order of Saint Francis Xavier and also a very gifted artist. He painted the pictures that decorate the newly-renovated chapel, which was completed and opened only last month, December 2020.

The picture above the altar is of Jesus, his mother and his disciple, John. The writing on the 2 long red pieces of paper was done by the children. On the left, words of Jesus: ‘Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I thank you because you have revealed the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven to little children’, and on the right it says, ‘If you fall in love, stay in love’ (from the Arrupe Prayer, attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, which starts ‘Nothing is more practical than finding God’, and is also very popular as a song).

On the right-side wall, there is a line of 14 small paintings, serving as the Stations of the Cross…. check out the eyes!

On the left wall and at the main entrance are other paintings, mostly much larger…..

This organization is based in Shenkeng 深坑, on the SE edge of Taipei, an old coal-mining town on the edge of the mountains. They have a large building right on the main road in front of Shenkeng Old Street. This is the mosaic version!

Shenkeng Old Street is famous for its stinky tofu and every other kind of tofu. This is it!

After our visit to the centre, we just had to visit the Old Street for some of the famous tofu, plus other dishes ~ kindly hosted by Ming-Chuan and his wife…. It was all delicious!

This is the Old Street, with hardly any people. At the weekend, it’s full, but even so, with the pandemic, there are no international tourists. We all agreed it was a much nicer Old Street than our local one in Tamsui!

It was, and is very cold, and it’s been raining and cold for days. A massive cold front has swept in and frozen us all up! “6°C, feels like -1°C” said my phone yesterday morning. This is not a country that does ‘cold’ very well. We have no central heating, everything is built to keep us cool not warm! Everyone is wearing a ton of layers, inside and outside – temperatures inside and outside are more or less the same. Our houses, offices, schools and lifestyle are much more suited to summer than winter – Taiwan is on the Tropic of Cancer, after all. But a few years ago, we did have snow on Taipei’s Yangmingshan Mountains, and the news yesterday morning said that 5 cm of snow had fallen up there overnight. However, the mountains were hidden from our view – in swirling clouds and rain all day. Until that it is about 4:30 pm, after we had got back from Shenkeng, when the clouds cleared ~ and yes, in the far distance we could see a sprinkling of white snow! We all rushed out and up to the 3rd floor of St. John’s University to take photos. Such excitement!

Update, Saturday – and the snow has stayed throughout last night and today. Those mountains have looked the same all day today. We’re all excited about the snow, but everyone is freezing cold!

Enough excitement for one weekend. Stay warm everyone, and thanks as always for your continuing support!

Sea of Flowers @ Taipei Guandu Plain! 🌺

Every year, the Taipei City Government arranges for local farmers in the area of Taipei City known as the Guandu Plain to plant flowers in some of their fields. Every year it’s so beautiful!

Most of the fields there are normally used for rice, but at this time of the year, the flowers make a nice alternative, and apparently help the soil too after the rice harvest.

And so now we have the wonderful display, a sea of flowers!

The flowers are mostly cosmos and zinnia, and this year they cover over 4 hectares. The fields are close to where the Keelung River joins the Tamsui River, and lie not far from the riverside bicycle path.

So last Sunday morning, very early, about 7 am – on my way by YouBike to Good Shepherd Church in Shilin, Taipei, so I spent 30 minutes checking out the scene. The Yangmingshan Mountains at the back were in cloud, but otherwise the light was stunning and it was early, so there weren’t yet too many people there taking photos.

It’s beautiful! Kudos to Taipei City Government – and the farmers.

The Taiwan News article about this is here.

If you have time and the opportunity, get on a YouBike and get there quick, it’s well worth it!

Gladys Aylward (1902-1970)

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Gladys Aylward (1902-1970): “English missionary in China and Taiwan who worked to end the traditional Chinese practice of binding women’s feet, led a large group of orphans out of occupied China, and set up orphanages in Hong Kong and Taiwan”…

Gladys Aylward is buried in Taiwan, only 12 km from where I live here at St. John’s University. Her grave is in the grounds of Christ’s College, 臺北基督學院, located on the top of a very steep wooded hill above Guandu. Every time I go into Taipei by road or MRT, I pass by just below that college, but this is only my third visit to see the grave. Bit put off by that steep hill, the heat and all the mosquitoes up there under the trees!

My good friend and CMS mission partner colleague, Shelagh was called to the mission field as a child through hearing Gladys Aylward speak at her church in Canada. Shelagh served as a missionary nurse overseas until she retired only a few years ago – and when she visited Taiwan in 2009, Bishop Lai took us up that steep hill to visit the grave. He noticed the seal (right photo below) of the then President of the Republic of China (Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正) on the grave – Gladys Aylward became a citizen of the ROC in 1936 (though I see that the gravestone says 1941). With all the political turmoil of the time, she eventually settled in Taiwan, ROC in 1958, and died on January 2, 1970.

Gladys Aylward’s Chinese name is 艾偉德 Ai Wei-De, the characters are written vertically on the wall behind the tomb (left photo above). Her life story was published in ‘The Small Woman’ by Alan Burgess (1957), and from that book, made into what Gladys Aylward always thought to be a wildly exaggerated romantic Hollywood classic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), starring Ingrid Bergman. Ah, but it’s a great movie! Apparently it was filmed in N. Wales and the children in the movie were from the Chinese community in Liverpool.

The words on her grave are as follows:

MISS GLADYS AYLWARD
MISSIONARY (1902-1970)
Born on the Twenty-Forth of February, Nineteen Hundred and Two in London, England
She came to China in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty to preach the Gospel, in response to the Lord’s call:
And became a citizen of the Republic of China in Nineteen Hundred and Forty one
She was laid to rest in the Lord, at Taipei, Taiwan, on the Second Day of January, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. John 12:24”

The grave is hidden away on the main campus, on the edge of the steep hill, next to graves of the founder and others associated with the college. The vegetation has grown up and the steep slopes are covered in trees and plants. Down below are several new high-rise apartment buildings that are almost taller than the hill itself. The graveyard is really a little oasis in the midst of a busy bustling area of Taipei. Oasis for mosquitoes that is – don’t stay there long or you’ll get eaten alive!

And most moving for me is the quote on her grave in English and Chinese:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’. John 12:24

‘一粒麥子不落在地裏死了,仍舊是一粒;若是死了,就結出許多子粒來’ 約翰福音 12:24

Happy Buff-Selfie Day You-Biking @ Taipei!

Yes, it’s New-Buff Day, which means it’s also Buff-Selfie Day!

So, the story goes like this. Over the last few months, Taiwan has done really well in handling the Covid-19 pandemic and in supplying face-masks to the rest of the world. I offered to help out family and friends – and so far have sent out 8 packages of over 500 real genuine Made-In-Taiwan face-masks to family and friends in the UK.

Very delighted to receive a Hot-Weather ‘Buff’ as a thank you gift in return, with a request for photos wearing it. A ‘buff‘ is a tubular piece of material for wearing as a head or neck covering; some people are also wearing them as required face-coverings in the pandemic. I am wearing one just to keep the sun off my face, they also keep the cold out in winter. This one is special for hot temps, with UV protection. Wore it yesterday on my You-Bike ride to work at the diocesan office.

Took zillions of selfies, but selected just 10. Thought you might like to see them too – posted more or less in order. Gives an idea of life on a You-Bike in Taipei!

My route is from Tamsui along the bike path by the Keelung River to Shezidao Bridge 社子大橋, around Shezidao, along to Dadaocheng 大稻埕, and into Taipei to the diocesan office, which is near the CKS Memorial…. 27 km.

Coming home my route goes up along Zhongshan North Road 中山北路 to the bridge near the Grand Hotel to rejoin the bike path to Tamsui… 23 km.

6:00 am start, arrived in Taipei about 8:00 am, after many stops for photos. And traffic lights. And to let buses pass. And to drink water. And many more! Left after the temperatures started going down a bit about 4:00 pm and got back to Tamsui about 6:00 pm. 50 km round trip. Very hot!

New Buff is great, keeps the sun off, and let’s air in, which is the main point – and it’s much cooler than what I was wearing before.

And the colours are my favourites! Happy Buff-Selfie Day!

PS Sept 4: Since publishing the above post, I’ve received a request for a photo of the You-Bike! This is a friend and me a few weeks ago on the same route, with the bike in the photo – it’s the best bike-sharing scheme ever, and very cheap!

Happy Buff-Selfie Day You-Biking @ Taipei!

Treasures of 台南 Tainan!

Tainan on Taiwan’s SW coast is packed full of places to see, treasures to find and special foods to taste; it’s Taiwan’s oldest city and former capital city so it has a long and vibrant history. It’s also the cultural capital of Taiwan – so forget Taipei – Tainan is where it’s all happening! Our 26 hours there this past weekend was never going to be enough to see everything – but then that was never the intention. Just a few sights would be enough! And especially on the last weekend of August in what is being hailed as Taiwan’s hottest summer ever recorded. It was hot, mostly 27-34°C, but less humid than northern Taiwan, and definitely less sultry and muggy than Taipei City. This was the beach at Yuguang Island 漁光島 about 10:00 am on Saturday morning – the place to watch firework displays, sunsets and surfing…

Let’s focus a bit on T-A-I-N-A-N and what I noticed ~ T: Tradition / A: Architecture / I: Innovation / N: Nature / A: Art / N: News

T for Tradition: and there’s plenty of that in Tainan, from traditional buildings to traditional foods, Tainan has it all! We visited the Tainan Confucius Temple, built in 1665 as a temple and school, the first educational institution of its kind in Taiwan. The central buildings are currently under repair, but it’s all free to enter and well worth a wander around…

A for Architecture: Tainan’s historical affiliations have resulted in a whole range of old buildings built in different styles, according to who was in charge at the time, starting with Dutch Formosa 1624-1662 > Kingdom of Tungning 1662-1684 > Qing Empire 1684-1895 > Republic of Formosa 1895 > Empire of Japan 1895–1945 > Republic of China 1945–present..

The place to go is Anping on the west side of Tainan near the sea – it’s full of old houses, temples and much more…

There’s the Anping Old Fort 安平古堡, built by the Dutch after they captured Anping in 1624, originally called Fort Zeelandia, and completed in 1634. In 1662, Koxinga successfully captured it from the Dutch, and changed the name to Anping. His statue is there in the grounds. The inner fort became the seat of government for Taiwan, and so it was known as the King’s Fort. During the Qing Dynasty, excessive silting up of the shore gradually reduced the fort’s importance and the Qing soldiers took many of the building materials for the Eternal Golden Castle.

The Eternal Golden Castle 億載金城 is the other fort to visit of historical importance – built to resist the Japanese troops who invaded Taiwan due to the Mudan Incident in 1874. It was the first western-style fort built in Taiwan, completed in 1876, and equipped with British Armstrong cannons….

I for Innovation: The 6-storey Hayashi Department Store 林百貨opened in Taiwan in 1932, founded by Japanese businessman, Hayashi – and it was clearly the place to be seen at the time – a new, modern Taiwan had arrived. Hayashi’s most popular attraction was the elevator, which is still running – Taiwan’s first ever. Not even Taipei had an elevator at the time. All sorts of fashionable goods imported from Japan were sold there, and still are. During World War II, the rooftop was converted to an anti-aircraft artillery site and it was bombed on March 1, 1945 by the US Air Force. The roof was destroyed, later repaired, but several bullet holes can still be seen. There’s also a Shinto Shrine on the rooftop. The building was later used for offices, but in 2014 it was reopened as a department store, reinventing itself selling beautiful designer clothes, gifts and locally famous delicious foods but all decorated in 1930’s Japanese style. It was full of young people when we visited!

N for Nature: The east side of Tainan was originally sugar plantations, run by the Taiwan Sugar Corporation, and some of the original buildings survive, including the Sugar Research Institute and training centre. The Taiwan HQ is there too. Much of the land is now used for housing, hotels and shops – but the Barclay Park and the surrounding area is a great area for nature walks and early morning and evening exercise. You can walk right out to the old sugar factory area and see the old buildings.

The nearby hotel, Evergreen Plaza Hotel is also run by the Sugar Company (see their logo on the top of the hotel). Great views from the top over the city!

A for Art: Tainan is reinventing itself and converting some of its old buildings into interesting places that mix old and new. The Tainan Art Museum Building 1 is an old police station, built in 1931 by the Japanese in art deco style – the front part is kept as before, the Detention Room is now the coffee shop, and the back part has had a whole modern section built on…

And the Art Museum Building 2 is a whole new modern art gallery, large and bright and with lots of glass…

N for News: The first big news is that while in Tainan in a bookshop, I found a copy of ‘Stories of the Sahara’ 撒哈拉的故事 by Taiwan’s most famous travel writer of modern times, Sanmao 三毛 (1943-1991), originally published as a series of short stories of her life with her Spanish husband living among the Sahrawis, the local indigenous people of Western Sahara, in the mid-1970’s. The stories were written in Chinese, mostly as a series for a Taiwan newspaper, then published as book, later translated into Spanish, and now at long last, finally an English translation has recently come out. I’ve just finished reading the electronic version, this book is the real thing. Highly recommended reading for the long journey to Tainan, or to recover after a day’s sightseeing. Order a copy today!

And the other big news, and the whole reason we were in Tainan this past weekend was that our former bishop of Taiwan, Bishop David J. H. Lai and his wife Lily retired to Tainan on February 22, 2020 immediately after the consecration of his successor, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang. They have been inviting us to come and visit Tainan ever since, so I went with Huei-Ling from our diocesan office – by High-Speed Rail from Taipei (1¾ hours). We are very grateful to Bishop Lai and Lily for their wonderful welcome, generous hospitality and kindness to us both, taking us to visit so many places and enjoying such delicious foods. Lily is from Tainan, Bishop Lai was a student at Tainan Theological College, and before becoming bishop, he was in charge of Grace Church, Tainan, so it’s like they have returned home. They are clearly loving their new life, with friends and family nearby – and we had the honour of visiting their new home for tea-drinking. They are the True Treasures of Tainan!

Tainan is a great city, full of interesting places to see, all not far from each other, and famous for its delicious snacks, of which we only had time to try a few. All good – this was at the Hayashi Dept Store!

A visit to Tainan, yes, even for just a short time, is very highly recommended. You’ll certainly find plenty of great treasures to see, so do make the most of it and enjoy every moment!

Almost On Top Of The World @ Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 3,492 m / 11,456 ft!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!”

And so, inspired by Dr. Seuss, off we went! To Dabajianshan no less!

Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 (Dàbàjiān Shān, tr: ‘Big Chief Pointed Mountain’) at 3,492 meters, 11,456 feet, up in Hsinchu County, part of Shei-Pa National Park 雪霸國家公園, is variously described as ‘one of the most iconic high mountains of Taiwan’, a ‘fearsome triangular tower summit with vertical walls on all 3 sides about 150 meters high and 100 meters wide’, looking like a ‘large barrel of wine, cold and daunting’, and a ‘huge, towering block of rock that thrusts out into the sky’. The Japanese called it “The Wonder Summit of the Century” and they were the first to officially record an ascent to the summit in August 1927. Dabajianshan is so famous, so iconic in Taiwan that the mountain is even pictured on the NT$ 500 note ….

One of several photos posted here courtesy of Jasmine Yu

The indigenous people of the area, the Atayal and Saisiyat, believe Dabajianshan to be sacred, the birth place of their ancestors. For safety reasons it is now illegal to climb the rock face to the summit, but climbing as far as the base below that rock for a photo with the mountain sign is counted as having reached the top…

From Wikipedia: “The first half of Dabajian Mountain is a medium grade hill with about a 35° incline. The top half is an almost straight up rock face. The mountain’s steep grade and unique features were mainly formed by wind. The mountain is composed mainly of greywacke – a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments or lithic fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. Greywackes are mostly grey, brown, yellow or black, dull-colored sandy rocks which may occur in thick or thin beds along with shales and limestones. They are abundant in Wales, the south of Scotland, the Longford Massif in Ireland and the Lake District National Park of England; they compose the majority of the main alps that make up the backbone of New Zealand.”

Taiwan has 286 peaks over 3,000 m in altitude, and of these, ‘The 100 Peaks of Taiwan’, known as the ‘Baiyue’ 百岳 are the famous ones that everyone hopes to climb. These 100 peaks were selected not necessarily just for altitude, but also for their uniqueness, danger, height, beauty and prominence.

There are 4 Baiyue on the Dabajianshan ridge:
1) Baiyue No. 28: Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 3,492 m / 11,456 ft
2) Baiyue No. 36: Xiaobajianshan 小霸尖山 3,418 m / 11,214 ft
3) Baiyue No. 53: Yizeshan 伊澤山 3,297 m / 10,817 ft
4) Baiyue No. 86: Jialishan 加利山 3,112 m / 10,210 ft

Most hardened climbers do this trip to the Dabajianshan ridge in 3 days and 2 nights, but everyone says it’s hard work. We chose to do it by splitting day 1 into 2 days, and so we went for 4 days and 3 nights. The total length of the whole trail is about 60 km, and I read that the total elevation gain (ie how much we climbed) is 2,437 meters.

But first, let me rewind to a month or so ago when my good friend, Jasmine Yu very kindly invited me to join her 2020 family mountain trip; and I was delighted to say ‘YES!’ We went with our regular friendly mountain guide, Laisun, who led us on our first mountain trip way back in 2011, and except for last year when we couldn’t go at all, we’ve been going with him every year since. Back in 2011, Jasmine’s children were then aged 10 and 13, and over the years, we’ve also included grandma and many aunties and uncles, a few cousins and friends too. Possibly the most memorable trip was in July 2017 when we went to Yushan, Taiwan’s highest mountain (see that report here). This year, the older generation decided not to join us, but we had a great group of 8, Jasmine, her husband, their son and daughter, son’s girlfriend, a cousin, Laisun and me; that’s 4 older ones and 4 younger ones. Yes, it was fun! Jasmine and Laisun organized everything from applying for permits, the itinerary, accommodation, transport and advice on what to take. And what to wear too – we all had new T-shirts (of different colours but the same style) to wear on the summit!

And thus it was that we met at 7:00 pm on Monday July 20 at Tamsui MRT Station and set off in a minibus heading to Hsinchu County and the remote Atayal Town of Chingchuan 清泉 where we spent the night (and enjoyed a really good breakfast too!) at the Chingchuan RC Church Hostel. The Jesuit priest there, Fr. Barry Martinsen 丁松青神父 from California is very well-known in Taiwan, having served here for over 50 years, along with his brother, who died just a few years ago. The church was open, and is decorated with Atayal pictures on wood around the church at ground level. Hidden behind the altar was an Atayal Jesus breaking bread ~ I especially liked that.

The next morning, Tuesday July 21, we left early and drove further up the mountain to the Guanwu Forest Park Trailhead to start our big expedition. Here begins the very long, and let’s be honest, painfully tedious Dalu Forest Road 大鹿林道 which winds its merry way, mostly downhill, for a seemingly never-ending 19 km to Madara Creek Trailhead 馬達拉溪登山口. It feels never-ending not because it’s unpleasant – in fact the scenery is stunning – but because such a road is not really suited to wearing climbing boots, and rucksacks are heavy, even though we’d all pared down to the bare minimum ~ still mine was probably 10 kg with sleeping bag, mat and water added. Laisun meanwhile was carrying over 30 kg, including all the food, pots and pans and gas canisters that we would need for 8 of us for 4 days!

Until Typhoon Morakot hit in August 2008, it was possible for private vehicles to drive up the Dalu Forest Road to the Madara Creek Trailhead, but after the typhoon washed away the road, the whole trail and therefore access to the mountain was closed off until 2015. When it opened up, it was forbidden for vehicles to use the road, and now everyone has to trek along the road on foot. We did see motorcycles on the track, they were ferrying supplies to the Madara Creek Trailhead, from where the extremely strong and capable young men of the Atayal tribe carry huge loads up the mountain to the 99 Mountain Hut.

We walked for 4-5 hours along the Dalu Forest Road, starting about 9:00 am, but we didn’t get all the way to the Madara Creek Trailhead on the first day, instead we decided to stop overnight at one of the huts on the road, the one at the 15 km mark. The huts are there to provide basic shelter, but other than that, there is no electricity, no toilets, water is from a nearby stream and they also cannot be booked overnight. Officially we were supposed to be camping, but, well, by early afternoon, we were tired, aching and the heavens were about to open with a massive thunderstorm, as happens every afternoon in the high mountains in summer. So we were very grateful that one of the huts was empty and we could rest our weary feet for the night.

On Wednesday morning, July 22, well rested and refreshed (and with our sleeping bags stored in the hut ready to pick up on our return trip), we were up bright and early, starting out about 6:30 am for the remaining 4 km to the end of the Dalu Forest Road. There is a very steep short-cut downhill at the 17 km mark which cuts the final 2 km off the road walk, with ropes provided to help you down, though it’s much harder to balance with a rucksack, I can tell you!

Down at the Madara Creek Trailhead is another hut and also toilets with running water. It’s there that the path crosses the river on a red footbridge and the great ascent officially begins. Down below the bridge are the remains of the old suspension bridge that was washed away in a typhoon in 2012, which also took out part of the National Park office there which is still clinging on, though badly damaged and now unused.

The path up is mostly steep, 4 km and 1,000 meters of ascent, all forested – including the famous hinoki cypress at higher altitudes.

We had a few rest stops of course….

The Atayal porters do the trip in an hour, we took 4 ½ hours, but even with rucksacks, hey, we got there by lunchtime! The ‘there’ we were heading for was the 99 Mountain Hut 九九山莊, named after it’s altitude of 2,699 meters above sea level.

We were there for 2 nights, like nearly everyone else on the trail. There’s room for 300 people to stay overnight in large bunk dormitories or in smaller circular huts, which is where we stayed, and warm sleeping bags can be hired. Very cosy! The younger members of our group approved the row of toilets as being clean, with water streaming along under them washing away the waste, but each person has to take all their own rubbish, including used toilet paper, back down the mountain themselves. Electricity is available for overhead lighting for about an hour in the evening, but there are no plugs for recharging phones and although there is running water, it’s cold, and nobody takes a shower. In fact, do not expect a shower for the whole 4 days. As everyone is in this together, nobody gets too worried! It was 16°C during the day up there and about 10 at night, so it was OK, not too hot, not too cold. Meals can be booked at the 99 hut, or you can do it all yourself, and bring your own food and stoves. Laisun was in his element cooking up delicious meals with numerous dishes supplied for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over the 4 days, we had steak, sausages, duck, chicken, rice, noodles, vegetables, soup, eggs, bread, and plenty more. And when he wasn’t actually cooking, he was boiling up water for us to drink during the day. We just had to supply our own snacks and drinks, like coffee – ah, such luxury!

Every day, the main concern was not if, but when it would rain, because if possible we didn’t want to be out there in it! Every day by about 12 noon, the fog was already rolling in, and by about 2:00 pm, it started raining heavily, with thunder and lightning. This went on for an hour or two, then it all stopped, the fog cleared and both nights we were at the 99 hut, there was a magnificent sunset.

The sunset-viewing hill, just above the 99 hut, also happens to be the place where there is a phone signal, so it seems the whole camp went up there after dinner. I switched my phone off completely for the whole 4 days, but all those around me were busy calling family and friends, posting photos and live updates of the sunset. It really was spectacular watching the clouds part, then the sun’s reflection on the sea, and finally the sun descended from below the clouds and turned the sky all orange. A fitting way to end the day.

And that was the end of the day, because after dark at about 7:00 pm, there really wasn’t much else to do but sleep and get ready for a very early start the next day. The next day was the day we were finally going to see the mountains we had come for, and we would be spending the whole day on the top of the mountain ridge.

Thursday July 23 was THE day! It also happened to be the 27th wedding anniversary of Jasmine and her husband, and we even found them a place to celebrate, on the top of the mountain ridge where stones had been arranged to form the words “I love you” and the numbers 2020 07 23, that day’s date. But that would come later, first we had to get up very early, along with everyone else in the whole camp, and set off. ‘Very early’ means we arranged to have breakfast at 3:00 am in order to leave at 3:30 am – so that we could get to the top of the ridge and along to all 4 mountains and back before the rain came again. The pressure was on!

As we set off, the sky above was filled with stars, and the whole Milky Way seemed to be on display for us, plus a few planets thrown in for good measure! We were led by our headlights, and it was steep, but as our main luggage was now at the 99 hut, so we only needed day packs, and boy, are they so much lighter! As we went up, down on our left were the shimmering lights of Taiwan’s west coast cities, Hsinchu, and further south towards Taichung. At 4:45 am, we got our first real live sighting of Dabajianshan (the rounded one centre left) and Xiaobajianshan (the pointed one centre right). It was a big ‘wow’ moment!

Soon the sun came up, and by 7:00 am we had the most glorious views of the whole mountain ridge…

Another ‘wow’ moment was looking to the left of Dabajianshan to see Dongbajianshan東霸尖山 of which there seemed to be 5 separate rounded mountains, very dramatically lined up in a row…

There was more to come, as we walked down through the forest path and up to the base of the rock face of Dabajianshan. That’s the place for the photos, our first Baiyue of the trip, whoopee! The rock face is just incredible, and from nearby, it’s possible to see that there must be a whole colony of swifts / swallows living there, as they’re all swirling around in the sky. Jasmine’s husband had brought along his mini-drone which he sent up to whirl around the mountain taking photos of us down below. The swifts were a bit uncertain about the drone, as was a butterfly, they came and circled around it checking out the strange object in their midst!

The metal frames there lead up to the edge of the rock face, from where we walked along, under the overhanging rock, past the rusted metal barriers that had once protected climbers in the past, now no longer in use. Soon we could see Taiwan’s east coast in the distance, with Turtle Island off the coast at Yilan, and further to the north, we could see Yangmingshan, the mountains above Taipei. We also passed the ‘I love you’ stone arrangements….

And so to Xiaobajianshan, tr: ‘Small Chief Pointed Mountain’. This is famous as being the most exhilarating part of the 4-day trip, as the top third of the summit has ropes and steep drops and ledges and all sorts of excitements that you need to get over to get to the top. We left our bags down on the ridge and it took us about 20 minutes to scale the rocks to the top. It was great! The summit was the highest point we actually climbed that day, 3,418 m.

And so back down again, which was a bit scarier than going up, and even though it was only 9:00 am, already the clouds were gathering, fog was starting to roll in and we had to get a move on.

Walking along back the way we came, we saw some beautiful Alpine flowers…

But by the time we turned around to get our last look at Dabajianshan and Xiaobajianshan, they were already disappearing into the fog!

This is our 3-minute drone footage on YouTube of that section of the trip – the music really adds to the atmosphere – do look at it, it’s great. Spot us walking along below the rock-face on the way back looking like little ants!

We had to go back on the same route as we came, but first we headed to Zhongba Hut, where we had left our cooking stuff on the way up in the morning, and where Laisun cooked up some noodles for lunch. Yum yum! On our way up in the morning, we had passed signposts to the 2 remaining Baiyue mountains, leaving them for the return trip in the afternoon. By 12 noon, we were up on the summit of Yizeshan 伊澤山 3,297 m, which is only about a short detour from the main path. On a clear day, the view would be great, but it was already foggy, apparently it’s quite normal for this time of year.

We had one more mountain to go, and the skies were turning darker and darker. The detour to Jialishan 加利山 3,112 m would take us about 40 minutes round-trip, but despite the threat of rain, still we just had to do it!

In the event, 6 of us took the detour, and though we got there fine at 2:00 pm, it started to rain the moment we left the summit and we had to move quite quickly. Back on the main path it was already raining hard, and even though we all hurried to get dressed up in our rain-gear, it was already a bit late, and well, we were very wet! But then, what is a mountain trip without a bit of rain? And thunder? And a lot of fog? We headed back down to the 99 hut in the rain, with distant thunder, and got safely back there about 3:30 pm, exactly 12 hours after starting out that morning…

And amazingly by the evening, the skies had cleared and we had a glorious sunset with hardly any fog to be seen! The whole sky was orange and pink. It was really such a beautiful way to end such an amazing day – and such a wonderful trip.

Friday July 24 was our final day, the day of the great descent from the 99 hut, all the way back to the Dalu Forest Road and so to the trail head and back home. We started very early, breakfast at 2:30 am and by 3:30 am we were all packed up and with our headlights on, ready to descend to the creek. We met 9 porters coming up in the dark with their massive loads, also groups starting their ascent, and later on, on the uphill forest road, we met lots of people heading along and up to the 99 hut, and many asked us about the rain and what time we had started out. The 4 younger people in our group all sped along, as did Laisun, now relieved of much of his heavy load – well, the food anyway. We were the group at the back, stopping at most of the rest stops and counting every 0.1 km as we passed each of the route markers! Just grateful we had left so early, so it wasn’t too hot, and it didn’t rain. We got back to the minibus at the Dalu Forest Road Trailhead at about 12 noon, relived to be back safe and sound, and so happy!

A very big thank you to Laisun for his calm leadership, flexible pace-setting, delicious cooking and being so willing to carry everything; he was heading back out to the high mountains later on Friday with another group, actually some of Jasmine’s former colleagues, who were going to climb Nanhu Big Mountain. He commented that due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, his mountain-climbing business had been badly affected earlier in the year, but now that restrictions have eased, people are once again venturing forth up the mountains – and as nobody wants to travel overseas for the foreseeable future, so they are using their holidays to climb Taiwan’s high mountains. This is Laisun in action….!

Another very big thank you to Jasmine for being so willing to include me in their family group, even to supplying the group T-shirts – and for keeping me up to date on how many Baiyue I have climbed since 2011; it’s now 22 in total, and all with Jasmine and her family! This was not the first time we had applied for permits for this trip, the other times had been unsuccessful; so thanks to Jasmine for her persistence in not giving up! I also really appreciated Jasmine’s husband for being so enthusiastic about taking photos and videos on his camera, GoPro and drone, and grateful to the younger generation for their willingness to help out, washing dishes, taking photos, fetching water, and generally cooperating and fitting in with the timetable – after all, getting up at 2:30 am for breakfast is really not everyone’s idea of fun 😮😃 – just don’t mention to them about the mouse at the 99 hut that ate its way through their Oreo biscuits! This is the group playing cards one evening…

Most of all, thanks be to God for his protection and safe-keeping. This is the typhoon season, so we were a bit worried; we had also heard from friends that they had climbed all the way up to Dabajianshan, only to see it shrouded in thick fog, and then it had rained all the time on the descent. In fact, every morning we had really good weather, no typhoon was forecast, and where was the wind? There was none! This time, everything went so well, and we are grateful for God’s grace and mercy throughout the trip. Yes, a big thumbs up, it was a great trip!

There is really not much in English on the internet about hiking Dabajianshan, but for further information, the following 2 blog posts are recommended:

How to hike Mount Dabajian-Part 1 – 大霸尖山 / Part 2 October 2019

Hiking in Taiwan: Dabajianshan (大霸尖山) 4-Day Solo Hike August 2017

Update from Taiwan: Masked Celebration in a Time of Coronavirus 😷

First the good news, today Taiwan has reached the biblical milestone of 40 days, that’s 40 straight days with no domestically transmitted Covid-19 infections. Cautious optimism all round. 😌

Good news part 2 is that it’s perfectly possible for everyone to get used to wearing face-masks. You too! It’s not weird, honest. And think how much money us women can save on lipstick as a result! 👩💄The above photo is of our Mother’s Day celebration on Sunday May 10 at Advent Church, celebrated each year in Taiwan on the second Sunday of May, all wearing face-masks. 😷 And good news part 3 is that it’s also perfectly possible for small children to take to wearing face-masks all day every day in school. That’s the Taiwan experience this term. And the result? Our church kindergartens are finding that all those horrible coughs, colds, flu and nasty bugs that normally spread so easily among groups of children are just not happening at all this term, and the kids are healthier than ever. So are their parents and teachers. And it’s not just our church kindergartens, but everyone else I talk to as well, all agree that having to wear face-masks so much is having a positive effect on our general health. Of course, it’s getting hotter and more humid as summer nears, and face-masks really restrict air-flow to the face – so you also need a fan, but y’know, so far it’s working. Let’s face it, social distancing with hundreds of very small children is hardly practical, whereas face-masks are. Never underestimate small children and their ability to adapt – and if it’s working in Taiwan, then hey, take my advice and follow Taiwan’s lead! 😷😷

(PS Updated on June 10 with this link to an article in the Taipei Times titled ‘Infectious Diseases Incidence Falls‘ which provides the statistics confirming what I’ve written above.)

All masked up at St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung (photo taken from their facebook page)

A month ago, on April 21, Taiwan’s official Covid-19 statistics were 425 confirmed cases, 217 recovered and 6 deaths. Today, May 22 and the figures are 441 confirmed cases, 408 recovered and 7 deaths. As mentioned above, today is also the 40th straight day with no domestically transmitted infections; the last time Taiwan recorded a domestic infection was on April 12. We had had no imported cases for 13 straight days too, but then a new case was confirmed yesterday of a Taiwanese man who had traveled to Mexico for work in January, returning to Taiwan on May 20 with symptoms, and testing positive soon after his arrival. Of course, Taiwan is still closed to all visitors and even transit passengers; those allowed in must have either a Taiwan passport or resident permit, and are then subject to a 14-day closely-monitored mandatory quarantine.

So far, the virus continues to remain contained and we have not been in lockdown. Schools, work and church Sunday services continue with many precautions, like temperature checks, face-masks etc, but now plans are being made to resume some of the social activities that were on hold. We proceed cautiously, as every so often a new crisis erupts, along with fresh worry in case there’s new infections. One such is coming up in the next few weeks when 77 far-sea squid fishing boats and their 4,000 crew members are due to return home after 6 months at sea – new stricter rules mean that despite having been effectively isolated at sea for so long, they will also be subject to a 14-day quarantine, so let’s hope everything goes well there too. Plans are also being made for gradually opening up the country for business visitors, but it’s not happening yet; instead, starting soon is a project to design protocols for travel resumption. It’s a collaboration between Taiwan and Stanford University School of Medicine, whereby they send 500 people from San Francisco to Taipei; once here they will undergo testing every two days in a 14-day quarantine period, to try to work out the shortest possible isolation requirement for travelers.

Two days ago, March 20, was Taiwan’s presidential inauguration, broadcast live but held behind closed doors, with none of the usual public events and no delegations invited from overseas. Heightened tensions and military activity in the skies and seas around Taiwan usually accompany such important occasions, and this one is no exception, though possibly aggravated by the Covid-19 situation as world powers try to distract from their own failings and take to threatening each other instead. At Taiwan’s elections in mid-January, President Tsai Ing-Wen 蔡英文 was elected to serve a second term. The vice-president for her first term, Chen Chien-jen 陳建仁 is an epidemiologist and former Minister of Health during the SARS crisis in 2003, also a devout Roman Catholic – his was an ace appointment given the current Covid-19 crisis. The new vice-president, William Ching-te Lai 賴淸德 also has a medical background, but is most famous as being mayor of Tainan, 2010-2017, and more recently as premier. Most of the cabinet continue in their posts for a second term, including the very popular Minister of Health, Chen Shih-chung 陳時中 who is still giving briefings on the virus situation each day live on TV. His first briefing was on January 21, exactly 4 months ago, the day that Taiwan confirmed its first case of Covid-19, and he’s been doing them ever since. The government continues to be upfront, proactive and vigilant, and Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus crisis provides a beacon of light and hope in this dark world. And all this without any help or support from the World Health Organization and – despite the intervention of numerous countries around the world – no invitation to join the WHO Assembly held earlier this week either.

Meanwhile up in Yangmingshan, the Tajima Cattle escape the heat of summer…

It was Ascension Day yesterday, and today is exactly 3 months since the consecration of our new bishop, Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, on February 22. He’s been busy overseeing the renovations and remodeling at the diocesan office building, now virtually complete. The main changes are on the third floor, which was previously a meeting room with a large oval wooden table in the middle, with a double bedroom for guests at the far end, separated from the meeting room by a wall of books. All the books have gone, mostly moved down to the first floor; the wall and bedroom have also gone and the meeting room has been enlarged to make one big conference room, which is already being well-used by groups for meetings and training courses. There’s also been major work done to the bishop’s apartment and rooms on the 4th and 5th floors, plus the roof. Bishop Chang kindly hosts a monthly lunch for diocesan office staff, and on Wednesday he and his wife invited us up to their apartment for lunch (see photo below). They still don’t have any hot water, and they’ve already had one major flood – the water leaked from the 5th floor down to the 4th floor – but hey, everyone is still smiling! 😊

Check out the following photos taken over the last 3 months of the Diocesan Office remodeling project….

Floods inside, and now flooding outside too, it’s particularly bad in southern Taiwan. The first typhoon of the season passed by Taiwan a few days ago, leading straight into the plum rainy season, ⛈️ with heavy rains all this week, and warnings of further severe weather and ‘disastrous’ rainfall in some parts over this weekend. 🙏 Last weekend though, the weather was glorious, and the northern tip of Taiwan looked spectacular with its lighthouse, Shimen Arch and the Fuji Fishing Harbour…

As did St. John’s University (SJU), which is only 12 km south of Taiwan’s northern tip. Check out Sunday’s photo below of Advent Church and SJU, with the Yangmingshan Mountains so clear in the background. The people playing basketball are all from the Filipino community, who often spend their Sundays here having sports competitions….

SJU is now in the second part of the semester, and preparing for graduation and end of term events coming next month. The SJU Dept. of Creative Design has its annual graduation exhibition this week, and 3 of the girls from our SJU Student Fellowship in that dept, Yi-Ting, Yumi and Cai-Pei have based their design project on Advent Church, including the design for the new T-shirts for the student fellowship, modeled here by our chaplaincy staff and Yi-Ting (far left) 😊

The girls also designed all sorts of beautiful cards, books, calendars and souvenirs around the theme of ‘Advent Home’, all really creative, and I’ve persuaded them to put their short video on YouTube so you can enjoy it – just click on the arrow below….

You will see that the final scene of the video is shot at the SJU labyrinth. It’s located just behind Advent Church, on the SJU campus but next to the main road, and during this time of the coronavirus crisis, I’ve found it really helpful to use the labyrinth as a way of walking prayer. It’s hot out there, so late afternoon, just before sunset is a good time. If you don’t happen to have a real labyrinth nearby (ha ha, who does?!), you can print one from the internet and use your finger to ‘walk’ around, or just follow the red dot as it does the walking for you online. Anyway, I asked Nien-Tzu from SJU to take some photos of the labyrinth from his drone. Here they are….

Thank you for all your prayers, cards, letters, emails and messages of support. We have much to give thanks to God for here in Taiwan, and we pray that there’ll be more good news coming from the rest of the world. Hope you are all doing OK in the circumstances wherever you are – and staying safe.

These days, even the artworks at the Tamsui Light Rail Stations wear face-masks…

And finally, this short 3-minute video has resurfaced recently, it’s a wonderful antidote to today’s problems. Actually an advert for a bank, it’s based on a true story of a group of 5 elderly men in Taiwan ‘who turned the death of their life-long friend into the chance of a lifetime to relive a dream from their youth’. Many people in Taiwan do a round-island trip by bicycle or motorbike in their youth, it’s 900+ km, and usually takes about 9-10 days. Plenty more people dream of doing such a trip, but never get round to it. Maybe, just maybe, this pandemic has led you to remember and rekindle some of your own dreams and aspirations from long ago, and I hope these 5 elderly Taiwan men will encourage you to get on your bike (or feet, even) when this is all over and ride, ride, ride!

And if that doesn’t inspire you, then check out our local swallows who always choose the noisiest, dirtiest, most dangerous places to build their nests, right above the main entrances of the local shops over the road from SJU. There’s a whole load of nests over there. Fortunately for them, swallows are believed to bring blessings, so local shopkeepers go to great lengths to protect their nests. I might think it’s not the most scenic location to set up a new home, but hey, there’s plenty of flying insects to provide food for their young, and then there’s the tender loving care from the shopkeepers…

Your prayers for Taiwan continue to be appreciated, for newly-inaugurated President Tsai and her government starting a second term, for safety and stability, God’s protection, provision and grace. Thank you! 😷😷

Update from Taiwan: Masked Communion in a Time of Coronavirus 😷

So here I am, along with 23 million other people, on this small, densely-populated island of Taiwan, only 130 km across the Taiwan Strait from mainland China, and only 1,000 km or 2 hours’ flight from Wuhan, the original epicenter of the coronavirus. In late January, Johns Hopkins University said Taiwan was one of the most at-risk areas outside of mainland China, owing to its close proximity, ties and transport links. Taiwan’s first case was announced on January 21, exactly 3 months ago today, and let’s face it, it did not look promising.

Yet, fast forward 2-3 months, and a CNN report on April 5 is titled, “Taiwan’s coronavirus response is among the best globally”. True. As of today, Taiwan has 425 confirmed cases, 217 recovered and 6 deaths. The latest group cluster are 27 military personnel from the Panshi Fast Combat Support Ship, part of a goodwill fleet that visited Palau from March 12 to 15, they are now being followed up and contacts traced. Hopefully, as has happened so far, the virus will remain contained. Although the economy is suffering badly, so far there has been no lockdown or isolation imposed by the government, and although many activities are cancelled, schools, work and Sunday church services continue more or less as normal…

Maundy Thursday at Grace Church, Tainan, Taiwan

Global suspension of postal services due to the virus means I can write to you in the USA, but not if you live in Hawaii. On the other hand, you can write to me from anywhere in the USA, including Hawaii. If you’re in Canada, you can write to me here in Taiwan, but sadly I can’t write back. I can write to you in the UK, but you can’t write to me, so my Easter cards have arrived with you, but yours will not arrive here until after postal services resume again. We can send our diocesan magazines to Northern Ireland, but not to Ireland, and Ireland can’t send anything to Taiwan, whereas Northern Ireland can. We certainly live in interesting times.

So it’s a good job we have other ways to communicate. And communication in Taiwan these days is mostly done from behind a face-mask. Face-masks have been popular in Taiwan for years, but now they are compulsory on public transport, in all government buildings, schools, markets and many shops, along with temperature checks, hand sanitizer and social distancing. Most people wear them most of the time, me too. Face-masks hide virtually all facial expressions, especially as many Taiwan people also wear glasses, so you never again need to smile at anyone, in fact you can happily ignore everyone around you. That is until you get to teach a class of children and need them to speak, like in my weekly early morning class at the local middle school. They sang for my birthday a few weeks ago, all masked up. Thanks everyone! We also went there in Holy Week to distribute Easter eggs (actually salted duck eggs, dyed by our student fellowship) to the staff and children…

In our church services, wearing a face-mask has also become compulsory, but now I realize it’s easy to get away with not singing any hymns because nobody can see your lips moving, and anyway, it’s fiddly to sing as it moves the mask too much and you need to adjust it again – so it’s better to stay quiet. But if you stay too quiet, then the live broadcast doesn’t sound very live, as nobody can hear the congregation saying anything. And be careful not to yawn, or the mask comes loose, and certainly don’t laugh – masks only stay in place if you don’t move your mouth. The only time in the church service that anyone takes their mask off is the preacher for the sermon, and for everyone to receive the bread at Holy Communion. The photo at the top (and below) shows our masked communion service on Easter Sunday at Advent Church….

Actually, we encourage all the elderly to stay home and watch the livestream of services from our cathedral and some of the other churches instead. Advent Church cancelled its Holy Week services this year, and we all stayed home. Isn’t it just great sometimes to lie on your bed and go to church? That’s what I did, flicking through church services throughout the diocese as they broadcast live. And that’s how come I watched the end of the Maundy Thursday service from St. Peter’s Church, Chiayi. After the altar was stripped and the cross covered in a black cloth, the priest sat down and prepared to turn out the light, and to read aloud, in the darkness, the moving story of Jesus’ last hours. Except that at that exact moment that he switched out the light, the music started outside in the street, telling us all that the rubbish (garbage) truck was coming. The rubbish trucks have a set timetable, but all play music to let everyone know they’re coming along, like ice-cream vans do in the UK. And y’know, it was really quite surreal, but also kind of appropriate – the people outside throwing their rubbish into the trucks to be taken away, as the story of Jesus taking away our sins on the cross was being recounted inside. Almost a parallel universe.

On Easter Sunday, our preacher at Advent Church encouraged us to follow the example of Mary, on the day of resurrection at the tomb, who turned and saw the risen Christ, having first thought he was the gardener who had removed the body. In times of turmoil, grief, pain and suffering, we are inclined to blame others for everything that’s going wrong. But in reflecting on our own sin and turning in repentance, so we turn, as Mary turned, and see the risen Christ – and we pray that we might see the risen Christ in others too. We so easily see the evil in others, rather than the good. That is my challenge and prayer this Easter season for all of us, as individuals, communities, governments, countries and world leaders.