Category Archives: Taiwan

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! 😷😷

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.

Cherry Blossom at Advent Church, April 3, 2020

But, when I ask myself what is my response to all the pain and suffering in the world caused by the coronavirus, I am angry. Taiwan has done so well in handling this terrible situation, all without any help from the World Health Organization, which it’s not allowed to join, and all in such contrast to so-called ‘Great’ Britain, where the government has not just been slow to act, but inept and arrogant in its response. People here have asked me so many times to explain ‘herd immunity,’ and how come the UK government is in such a mess that even Prince Charles and the prime minister ended up infected. Don’t get me started, but it’s a good job the queen appeared on TV at the right moment to give a great speech and some hope to us all. Of course, all the credit must go to the exhausted front-line workers in hospitals, care homes, emergency services, supermarkets, delivery vans, schools and all those who’ve stayed home and done their bit to flatten the curve, plus those who’ve used their time creatively to raise money and help those affected. Yes, Taiwan learned from SARS in 2003 (read this account of what went wrong then) and has been proactive and vigilant ever since; plus the people are willing to comply with all restrictions for the greater good. And now the country is donating face-masks by the million to governments around the world who for the last few months have had the arrogance to say that face-masks don’t work or are not necessary. God have mercy!

In an opinion piece by Ian Inkster in the South China Morning Post titled, “In the battle against the coronavirus, East Asian societies and cultures have the edge”, he includes Taiwan when he says, “What has come through in each of the East Asian societies is a moral economy compounded of ancient traditions of Confucianism and Buddhism, and moderation of individualism by deep values of benevolence, shared responsibilities and obligations that might well be at the heart of East Asia’s success. Cultures that are sturdy in a world of change do not have to rely on expensive policies or promises of rapid economic recovery, for cultural suasion can go a very long way. It can save lives.” Food for thought indeed.

These few weeks we were supposed to be hosting the World Anglican Chinese Clergy Conference (WACCF) in Taiwan, and the 53rd anniversary celebrations of the foundation of St. John’s University, held each year near the last week of April. The result of so many events being cancelled is that we have far more time than usual, not just because the events are cancelled, but the planning and organization of them all too. It does mean more time for our new bishop, Lennon Y. R. Chang, who continues to be very busy as chair of the board of trustees of St. John’s University, as well as overseeing the remodeling and modernizing of the diocesan office building in central Taipei, which we hope will be finished next month.

Having less weekend events means more free time, and encouraged by the government to get out into the countryside for fresh air and exercise, so all the bicycle paths, parks, mountains and scenic areas locally are full of people, young couples, families, small groups of students, retired people, all enjoying themselves. That just has to be a good thing. Nature is there waiting for us to come and see it. The cherry blossom season is over, so is the wisteria at the middle school (photos above and below, courtesy of Jasmine Yu), and now it’s the frog-croaking season in full swing – they go on and on all night long!

Thanks for your continuing prayers, support and concern for us all in Taiwan, they are much appreciated. Praying for God’s mercy, grace and comfort in a hurting world. Stay safe everyone 😷

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2020!

Or as I prefer, the West-East Vertical Traverse! This is THE mountain challenge for all those looking for a day out from Taipei, an 11-hour hike over the 10 mountains in the Yang-Ming Shan range that lie just above Taipei City. It’s effectively a ridge walk, total 26.25 km (16.3 miles), 1,817 m (5961 ft) of ascent and over 53,000 steps in total. And totally worth it!

This post is an adapted version of my previous trip published here on October 28, 2019, but updated because I’ve just done it again, yesterday, April 18, 2020, and also because all 10 summits are now open to the public. The photos below are those taken yesterday too (except for this one, added as a further update, taken on May 1, 2020 of the view of the whole ridge, as seen from Taipei City, actually taken on the Shezidao Bridge at 7:00 am, far left is Mt. Xiangtian).

Yang-Ming Shan range taken from Shezidao Bridge, Taipei City, 7:00 am, May 1, 2020

Spring or autumn is the best time to do this hike, because summer is Qixing too hot (and it rains nearly every afternoon) and winter is too wet. You need a number of dry days before the actual day, otherwise the paths are slippery, especially the roped ones. So yesterday fitted the bill exactly!

The first time I did this hike was in May 2018 (see that account here), but by the next time, in October 2019, the route had slightly changed, with one of the summits (Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 ) closed to the public – to avoid the cattle, which are actually a mix of water buffalo and Tajima cattle, after someone was killed by one. The Mt. Zhugao summit marker post was moved to the highest point on the Lengqing Path, and renamed Jixinlun 雞心崙. Now it’s all open again, though the Jixinlun summit marker is still there – but it is hardly a real summit, so the big challenge lies in including Mt. Zhugao back in the itinerary once again. So that’s what I did yesterday – and just made it on time!

Fortunately the whole hike can be done in more manageable and smaller sections – it divides nicely into 4, which can be done over 4 days or 2. If you take the harder option, and do it all on one day, be prepared for aching limbs for 3 days afterwards – it’s hard work! Check out yesterday’s elevation record….

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

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

You also need to know that the final M1 bus of the day from Fengguizui down to Jiantan MRT goes at about 6:10 pm. That is the one to get! If you miss it, you have to walk down much further to Shengren Waterfall Bus Stop where there are many buses, but the road is long and winding, and the short-cut paths are steep – plus by then it’ll be dark, so timing is everything! The other reason for finishing at Fengguikou rather than starting from there is that the final part of the hike may be be long (6 km from Qingtiangang 擎天崗) but it is the least steep part of the whole hike, and after a long day going up and down, it’s nice to take things a bit more easily!

So all in all, I think it’s better to start at the west end of the hike, which is at Qingtian Temple 清天宮登山口 and walk eastwards. The bus you need is the S6 (小6) bus from Beitou MRT, and there are lots of buses all day long, and lots of people on a weekend all queuing for the early buses! Get there early. The earliest I could get to Qingtian Temple on Saturday was at 7:15 am. Qingtian Temple village has a temple or two, a public toilet and a large noticeboard with a map. The whole trail is very well-signposted as long as you know the order of the mountains. The trails on Yang-Ming Shan were mostly built in the Japanese Era, and they were built to last forever, mostly of stone. This is the view from Qingtian Temple Trail-head over towards Guanyinshan…

The trail from Qingtian Temple to the first summit of Mt. Xiangtian 向天山 takes just over an hour, going via the usually-water-less Xiangtian Pond. The path is nearly all in the trees, and among the bamboo, so it’s shady – but also slippery in wet weather…

On the way, you pass the Memorial Stone to Japanese Crown Prince Hirohito, erected in honour of his visit to the area in 1923 and his marriage the following year…

I was on the grassy summit of Mt. Xiangtian (949 m) by about 8:40 am – check out the Oldhams Azalea (Rhododendron oldhamii) – endemic to Taiwan and in flower all over the mountains at this time of year….

Twenty minutes later, I reached Summit 2, Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) at 9:00 am. There’s a viewpoint and raised rest area there, 2 huge microwave reflectors and views down to St. John’s University and the whole northern coast – but it was hazy. No problem, it saved me time not taking so many photos, and time was a bit of the essence!

Taking the path straight down from Mt. Miantian leads back to the main path. Turn right for about 10 minutes heading to Miantianping 面天坪, where there’s a pavilion always full of people enjoying a day out. The path up to Mt. Datun West and South Peaks (and eventually to Mt. Datun Main Peak) starts here, on the left. The Datun Mountain range 大屯山 lies ahead. This is the steepest part of the whole hike coming up. Bring some cheap gloves to cling onto the fixed ropes that are provided to help you haul yourself up and down. Yesterday it was very slippery, and without ropes would have been a nightmare. But be prepared for aching arms and shoulders!

The ascent of Mt. Datun West Peak 大屯西峰 is steep and exhilarating, with lots of large rocks to get over. The top (985 m) is mostly rocks too, and the descent is equally steep, so it’s better to go down backwards. At the bottom, head on to Mt. Datun South Peak 大屯南峰, which is a shorter but even steeper climb than West Peak…

However once you get to the summit (959 m), that’s it with the ropes (and the gloves), they won’t be needed any more on this hike. The descent is much easier. The path brings you out ready to hike up to Mt. Datun Main Peak 大屯主峰, which is a bit of a slog up endless stone steps. The summit (1076 m) is high up above the path, there’s a viewpoint, and it’s the top of the road for the cyclists who like to come up on their bikes from Taipei. On Saturday, it was mostly foggy, so no views, but on a clear day the views of Taipei are great. You can drive up here by car, but not during the butterfly season, which is happening now. By then it was almost 11:30 am. 5 mountains down, 5 to go. We’re half way along – yes!

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

At Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑遊客服務站, the fumaroles were spouting forth tons of yellow and white sulphur gases, stinking the place out. They are fun to check out. There’s also a visitor’s center (with maps, displays, water machines to refill water bottles, and friendly National Park people to answer all your questions), toilets and coffee shop. Due to the coronavirus precautions, like all government buildings, there is someone on duty to check temperatures of those coming in to the center to fill up the water bottles – and you need to wear a face-mask. Face-masks are also compulsory on all public transport – never go out without one!

From here, spurred on by coffee, it’s time to launch forth up the highest mountain of the day, Mt. Qixing 七星主峰. The newly-restored path is beautiful. This is always the place with the most people, and the youngest people – groups of students, young couples and families. And yes, it was heaving, but it’s not a difficult climb, in fact it’s fairly manageable even for people more used to walking in high heels on city streets, hence the vast numbers of people going up at the weekends. I got to the top (1120 m) at about 1:30 pm, and there was a line of about 30 people queuing to take photos at the big summit post.

About 20 minutes later, I got to the top of the Mt. Qixing East Peak七星東峰 (1107 m). From there, the descent is long. I got to the Lengshuikeng Visitor’s Center 冷水坑遊客服務站 at about 2:45 pm, time to refill the water bottles and cool down. But time was moving on – gotta get to that bus! But first I had to go to Mt. Zhugao 竹篙山 via Jixinlun 雞心崙, the highest point on the Lengqing Path. You walk eastwards from the visitor’s center on the path, cross the bridge and turn right towards the pond. At the pond, turn left up the steep steps. At the top of the steps, turn right, and about 5 minutes later is a viewpoint, and the marker is positioned there. Then on to Qingtiangang 擎天崗, which was also full of people. Everyone was there to relax on the grass, eat picnics and see the cattle. There were plenty of big fat buffalo, all lazing around, and all very smelly – these ones in the photo are Tajima cattle…

Eight summits down, two to go. At this point many people give up and go home by bus. The next section and challenge is to cover 6 km (plus a further 1 km by path / road to the bus stop) to get to the eastern end of the trail at Fengguikou. But this is also the nicest part in many ways. The trail alternates between forest and grassland, finally getting to the summit of Mt. Shiti / Shitiling 石梯嶺 (863 m). Beautiful! By then I was running very late, and only got to the final summit, Mt. Ding 頂山 (768 m) at 5:20 pm, so it was non-stop action from there, on down to Fengguikou Trail Head 風櫃口登山口. At the car-park, there’s a path immediately to the right that goes from the trail head to cut off the winding road.

I arrived at the Fengguizui Bus Stop just as the bus appeared – it goes up to the terminus, turns round and comes back and picks up all the people at about 6:15 pm. Five minutes later and I would have missed it, and would have faced a long walk down that steep hill to the Shengren Waterfall bus-stop. Phew, was I relieved!

This is a highly-recommended but a bit-of-a-killer hike and I am expecting to be aching for the next week! Very grateful for cool-ish weather, not much sun, hardly any real mud, ropes, dry paths, friendly people, hot coffee, easy access, good and cheap public transport, friendly and knowledgeable National Park staff, clear signposts, spring flowers, energy, free time and strength – and especially in this time of the coronavirus when so many other people in the world are in lockdown, grateful that here we are, free to do a whole day of hiking in the mountains. Thanks be to God!

So, where are we now?

(On first sight, doesn’t that sign above look like it’s saying ‘Avoid Catherine’?!) 😮

Taiwan is now in its 3rd month since the fear and worry about the coronavirus situation started.  It was just before Chinese New Year in the 3rd week of January that things started to happen big-time and Taiwan started its wall-to-wall News coverage, with daily press briefings from the health minister, and the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) in non-stop action.  Check out the Wikipedia Site ‘2020 coronavirus pandemic in Taiwan’ for a good description of what has happened so far. 

And so far, thankfully, it seems that Taiwan is just about keeping its head above water.   Even as the coronavirus situation worsens worldwide, the government here continues to be very vigilant and the people very willing to comply with all restrictions.   I was in Taiwan for the SARS epidemic in 2003, when we were the third most badly-affected country in the world after China and Hong Kong, and my memories are of it being a very fearful time for everyone; the depressing doom and gloom lasted for many months, and it was clear that the government regretted not being quicker and more proactive in preventing community outbreaks.  This time the government did not delay, and did what governments are supposed to do, that is learn from history and act for the benefit of the people.  On the very first day that the outbreak was officially reported by China (December 31, 2019), that same evening, the government here started checking incoming passengers on flights from Wuhan, even before they disembarked from the plane. 

By February 22, the day of the consecration of our new bishop, Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang, there were 26 confirmed cases in Taiwan, but no serious community outbreak, and it was felt safe to go ahead with the actual consecration service, though with a lot of precautions, including cancelling the consecration banquet, and temperature checks on everyone at the service.  Travel restrictions imposed by Taiwan at the time meant that visitors from Hong Kong had to cancel, but we welcomed Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and 12 other archbishops and bishops from the USA, Japan and Korea for the occasion.  

When we said goodbye to those bishops a few days later, it was South Korea, Italy and Iran that were the developing hotspots.  Fast forward a month, and the virus has spread worldwide, and with cancellations of school and work in Europe and the USA, so we are in a second wave of confirmed cases, as anxious Taiwanese overseas flee for the safety of home, all with stories of how relieved they are to be back in a country that really is taking this virus seriously.  Since last week, only those with Taiwan passports or a resident permit are allowed into the country; all are quarantined for 14 days and all are closely monitored; while the few who have tried to escape quarantine have been caught and fined. 

As of this afternoon, Monday March 23, we have a total of 195 confirmed cases and 2 deaths, with an increase of 26 new infections today, all accounted for, as announced by the health minister.  It feels like we are still holding our breath, still treading water, not daring to let down our guard, just in case, but also relieved that so far the virus remains contained.  Here at St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei, we are now in our 4th week of the semester (after an initial delay of 2 weeks), and this morning, I was on duty for an hour of temperature-checking of all students and staff arriving for classes.  Most of those arriving at the front entrance had just got off a bus or motorcycle and were wearing face-masks, many will wear them all day long. I wear mine in church, on public transport, in the supermarket, sometimes in the office and of course for temperature-checking, in fact anywhere where there’s too many people in too small a space, at the very least it keeps my hands off my face.  We use a digital forehead thermometer to check everyone, after which they get their hands sprayed with sanitizer and a sticker with a ‘1’ on it, denoting the first day of the week (in Mandarin Chinese, Monday is Day 1) showing that they have passed the temperature check. If they get a reading over 37.5°C, the thermometer light glows orange or red, so we wait a few minutes and check again. If it happens a second time, they get checked with an ear thermometer, and if that reading is over 38°C, then they are not allowed to enter the campus and instead sent to seek medical advice, and their details are recorded and followed up.  This temperature-checking activity takes a lot of organization, as everyone entering the campus has to be channeled through a central processing area at the main entrance, so it involves a whole rota of people, and there’s another group checking temperatures of those driving in by car.  The same rules of daily temperature-checking apply at all schools and government buildings in Taiwan; but apart from that, work and school continue vaguely as normal, with plenty of precautions, though many after-school, extra-curricular activities are cancelled, same for the churches.      

Our Sunday services are an ongoing challenge as they involve a wider age range of people, but they have not been cancelled, although numbers are down as some of the most at risk stay home.  We have the usual temperature checks, face-masks to be worn by clergy and congregation alike, and depending on the church, it may or may not be Holy Communion, and if so, mostly with bread only. Here at Advent Church, the clergy adjust the service protocol each week as they try to accommodate for everyone and everything in as safe a way as possible.   Our fellowship groups, Sunday Schools, Bible Studies etc are all cancelled, some are taking place online.  One thing’s for sure though, with so many cancellations, everyone has a lot more free time than they had before.    

It’s a month since Bishop Lai retired and Bishop Chang was consecrated, and our new bishop has not wasted one moment, starting immediately on the renovation, remodeling and updating of facilities at the 5-storey diocesan office building in Taipei City. He was also here at SJU this morning, now as chair of the SJU board of trustees, but I mistook him for one of the students as he arrived at the campus with his face-mask on, and lined up with everyone else for temperature-checking; the same with SJU President Ay.  When it comes to temperature-checking, from bishop to university president, staff, students and even the bus drivers delivering students, all have to line up to be checked; vigilance is demanded of everyone. 

As the coronavirus situation worsens worldwide, and restrictions continue in Taiwan with so many activities cancelled, I too have more time than usual.  Yesterday was Mothering Sunday in the UK and my mother celebrated her 88th birthday only a few days before.  It is a worrying time for those there and for us far away.  A few days ago I went through my address book and compiled a list of friends and family members mostly in far-off countries who are particularly vulnerable at this time.  Many are elderly or have elderly parents, many are in isolation, some have underlying health conditions.  My list has about 60 individuals / couples on it and I have committed myself to praying for them all by name every day for the foreseeable future, specifically for God’s protection, grace, strength and comfort at this time.  I’m happy to extend the list with a few more people and add your name or the name of someone close to you who you feel especially needs prayer at this time. Just one or two individuals / couples will be fine, not a whole list, I have to be realistic.  Just let me know the name and a few details.  Happy to help!

I am very grateful to my sending organization, Church Mission Society (CMS) for their support, care and concern, and especially for treating us as individuals, within the context of the church and country in which we work, and for respectfully standing back when appropriate and reaching out when necessary.  The last thing I would want is mission support done ‘helicopter parent’ style, so a big thank you to all in CMS.  Other people working in the charity sector are not so fortunate, I’ve realized recently, and some US mission societies have ordered everyone to return home, regardless of where they live or the current virus situation or the health facilities in that country; Peace Corps even has a worldwide evacuation order for all 7,300 of their volunteers to return to the USA, and finish their term of service.  Yes, sometimes less is more, which is the quote on the photo above (and below), though at first sight I thought the final phrase said, ‘Avoid Catherine’ but it turns out it’s not my name after all, but ‘Avoid Gathering’ with the ‘s’ missed off (duh!🙄) Certainly, avoiding people doesn’t mean we also need to avoid God, and surely He is nearer to us than we can expect or even know, and especially in these darkest of times.

Let me finish with this prayer, which I really like, from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the National Day of Prayer and Action yesterday, Mothering Sunday, as everyone was encouraged to light a ‘candle of hope’ in their homes: “May the God of all hope show us his face and his way within the darkness that enfolds us. In all things, God can work with us to transform and bring light, however desperate our present may be”.

And finally, it’s spring and these pink wood sorrels are out all over the SJU campus, looking glorious on a sunny day….

Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support, you are all much appreciated. Thanks especially to my CMS-supporting link churches. Please do stay safe, healthy, prayerful and hopeful, and let me know if you’d like me to pray. There’s a comment section up near the title if you want to write something. 

Happy Chinese New Year of the 🐭🐀!

Chinese New Year (CNY) Celebrations for the Lunar New Year / Spring Festival have been going on non-stop all week here in Taiwan! There are mice and rat characters everywhere 🐭 🐀 and Mickey Mouse and his friends have never been more popular. Plus red lanterns galore 🏮🏮🏮….

However, the Taiwan News is dominated by wall-to-wall reporting of the Wuhan Coronavirus situation, which has created a lot of fear, particularly among those who have stayed at home over CNY and watched a lot of TV. We all remember the SARS outbreak in 2003, which the Taiwan government handled really well, but still, many have cancelled their travel plans and are avoiding large gatherings and public transport, and we’re all hoping that the situation does not get worse. There are quite a few suspected – and some confirmed – cases in Taiwan, but so far all remain contained. Kindergartens are back in action as from yesterday, state schools start on February 11. I’m here at St. James’ Kindergarten, Taichung, where all children and staff have their temps checked on entering the school, and everyone is wearing a face-mask and being extra-careful. Face-masks will be worn by all in our churches on Sunday too, and church activities limited for the next few weeks, just to be on the safe side.

But Taiwan people know the importance of celebrating the new year, and despite the concerns, we all had great CNY celebrations! On Chinese New Year’s Eve, I was invited by the Wang family from St. James’ Church, Taichung for their traditional family reunion dinner. Very honoured to sit next to Grandma Wang, aged 87, who kept us all entertained with stories of her early life and 20 years of living in Paraguay. And delicious food, as always – thank you!

Saturday January 25 was officially the first day of CNY, and my good friend A-Guan had invited me to join her on a 6-day road trip to southern and eastern Taiwan. None of her children wanted to go with us, so the two of us set off, in sunny weather heading south for Tainan, en route visiting all sorts of interesting sightseeing spots. First to Gukeng to the Pink Castle 古坑珍粉紅城堡, then to Rosahill, followed by some famous Gukeng coffee, and lastly to Wushantou Reservoir 烏山頭水庫 where it was overcast, but hey, it didn’t rain!

The Temple of Heaven at Wushantou Reservoir is being repaired, but it is modeled on the one in Beijing…. impressive eh?!

In Tainan, we were warmly welcomed by Rev. Philip J. L. Ho, his wife, their second son and his family, plus their daughter, all of whom had gathered for the CNY celebrations – actually his second son and family live very near me in Tamsui, ha ha! On Sunday we worshiped with the congregation at Grace Church, Tainan, and I was delighted to meet Rev. Samuel Liao and his family. We were all given red envelopes – as is the tradition, but instead of a token one dollar coin or chocolate money inside, we each received a new NT$ 100 note, plus a Bible verse. Mine was Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer 在盼望中要喜樂,在患難中要忍耐,禱告要恆切”. Thank you Grace Church!

After coffee time and a delicious Korean lunch, kindly hosted by Hsiu-Chin and her husband, we set off for Fengshan, Kaohsiung, where we were to be staying 2 nights with Ichen, our good friend from St. James – and her family. Once there though, it was such a beautiful day, that we couldn’t stay inside for long, and so we went by MRT along 3 stops to Weiwuying, Kaohsiung (still in Fengshan District), famous for it’s street art and wall murals, and the new state-of-the-art performing arts centre. I love Weiwuying – and there’s always new murals to look at – and this time a new multi-coloured seat to take photos on 🙃🙃 and hey, I met one of our church families from Advent Church, Tamsui visiting their family home in Fengshan for CNY!

On Monday, the weather forecast was good, but rain and cold were promised from Monday night onwards, so we needed to make the most of the sunny weather! A-Guan took us first to see the old iron-bridge 舊鐵橋 that used to link Kaohsiung to Pingtung across the Kaoping River 高屏溪, originally built to transport sugar. It was once the longest bridge in East Asia – built in 1914 in the Japanese Era. I loved it! The middle section was washed away in a typhoon some years ago, but much survives and is open to the public. The main train line crosses the river on a bridge close by. We also visited the nearby kiln and tile workshops, and in the afternoon we went to Pingtung to Liudui Hakka Park, plus other places – but there was a lot of traffic, everyone making the most of the fine weather!

On Monday evening, Rev. Lily Chang joined us, ready to leave bright and early on Tuesday morning. By 9:00 am, we were saying goodbye to Ichen and her family – they were so good to us, with delicious breakfasts and dinners, lively conversation and lots of laughs! We drove down the coast and over the mountains to Taitung – by the newly-opened road that goes through the tunnel – it’s great and saves a huge amount of time! We were heading for Bunun Village Farm 布農部落, our favourite place to stay in Taitung. This village project was started by Rev. K. S. Pai over 25 years ago, and is supported by many churches in Taiwan, with the aim of encouraging the local Bunun Indigenous people to remain in the area, rather than leaving for the cities in search of work. The village is a self-sustaining business with guest houses, restaurants, traditional dance performances, weaving, an organic farm and bamboo factory. We love it! We met Rev. Pai, who knows Bishop Lai and our former dean, Rev. Samuel Y. C. Lin from Tainan Theological College days – see the first photo below. I was very surprised to meet 4 Tanzanian students and one from Burundi, most on 4-month internships from Chang-Jung Christian University, Tainan studying Sustainable Development, sponsored by the Jane Goodall Institute 國際珍古德協會. Ah, it was nice to rekindle my Kiswahili!

The photo below left shows the very special traditional Bunun dinner we had on arrival – with millet wine in the bamboo holder ~ and A-Guan won a large glass of the same at the evening show!

On Wednesday, A-Guan took us all over Taitung, a huge circular tour – she really planned everything so well! We went to the local Farmer’s Association – famous for it’s rice products, to the Bunun Village in Haiduan 海端鄉 with its painted walls, to the Hakka Cultural Park and Dapo Lake, and then up to Fuli, Hualien County and over the long and very winding mountain road that led us down to the coast at Dulan 都蘭, famous for its Amis indigenous culture, elementary school bags (one recently spotted at the Paris Fashion Week), surf, old sugar factory turned into art space, and the new RC church. Phew, there was so much to see! And hey, it didn’t rain!

In Chishang 池上 we called in on Yihua and her husband to buy some of their delicious rice-cakes at their shop ‘池上樂米燒’ on the main street opposite the local government offices – they are church members originally from St. Paul’s, Kaohsiung and Grace Church, Tainan – and we also called there 2 years ago when they had just opened their business (see my blog post for that visit at CNY 2018 here). Yihua has a great testimony to share, as well as really yummy goodies to eat!

Our return to Taichung was Thursday, which was actually the return-to-work day for most people in Taiwan after the CNY holidays. We had an extra day, so we avoided the worst of the traffic. On the way, we stopped on the roadside to buy some of Taitung’s famous sugar / custard apples 釋迦 ….

And we also stopped at Dawu, south Taitung to see the painted walls and houses. Nearby is a relocated Paiwan Village built in cooperation with World Vision – the village was originally up in the mountains, but the destruction caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 meant they had to relocate to safer lands…

And so back to St. James’ Church, Taichung by 5:00 pm on Thursday evening, after a mega-trip. Grateful thanks to A-Guan, Lily, Ichen and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and family, and all who we met on the way! And thanks be to Almighty God for His many blessings, safety, good weather, friendly people, lots of laughs and tons of beautiful scenery!

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year of the 🐭🐀!

Above the Sea of Clouds: Taiwan’s Elections from afar…

Yesterday was THE day!  The weather forecast was sunny, warm and dry, it was a very rare free Saturday and the beautiful Yang-ming Shan Mountains above Taipei were calling.   At 7:00 am, it was just light as I set off on the trail upwards into the clouds, complete with gloves for the roped sections ahead, and plenty of coffee to keep me going.  Ever hopeful that the forecast would be right, I ventured forth – and so it turned out to be, at the top of Mt. Miantian 面天山 (977 m) where there are 2 huge microwave reflectors, I could look down onto a massive and beautiful sea of white clouds covering the whole of the northern coast, including St. John’s University and most of Taipei City.  Misty memories came back of the last time I was on Yang-ming Shan at the end of October 2019 to do the ‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-mIng Shan East-West Traverse’ ~ a killer hike and yes, mostly done in the mist. Yesterday turned out to be beautiful weather all day – cloud down below, blue sky above. And so the good weather continued – onto the summits of Mt. Datun 大屯山, Datun west, south and main peaks. The skies were blue, the clouds were white and the views were incredible.

And there were hardly any people.  Usually on a sunny Saturday all through the year there will be thousands of people on Yang-ming Shan hiking, walking, enjoying the hot springs, relaxing with family and friends.  After all, it is just so easy to get there from Taipei City by car or public transport, so there is really no excuse for NOT going!  But not yesterday.  It’s true that one of the roads was closed for repair after recent heavy rains, but even so, there were hardly any people anywhere to be seen.  Even Erziping with its famous lake and picnic site in the swirling mists had only a few people there…

Later, I did find out that one of my friends was following the same route as me, but a bit later in the morning – and by the time she got there at lunchtime, the sea of clouds had dispersed a bit.  And it was a bit of a surprise to bump into one of my adult students on the top of Mt. Datun, although Yang-ming Shan is that kind of place – anyway, it’s her who kindly took this photo ha ha! 

And the reason for there not being many people up in the mountains?  Election Day!  Down in Taipei and all over the country, people were lining up since 7:00 am to get in and vote in Taiwan’s 2020 Presidential and Legislative Elections.  Campaigning has been going for months, and it couldn’t be livelier.  Billboards, loudspeakers, TV appearances, campaign rallies, it’s been pretty non-stop all day long, and they cover every aspect – so it is impossible not to be involved.  Held once every 4 years, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was standing for a second term. 

Taiwan has no postal voting or voting by proxy, so the 14 million citizens who were qualified to vote had to travel home to the place of their household registration, which meant a mass exodus out of Taipei for the weekend.  St. John’s University and all other universities finished their term on Friday, allowing students to return home to vote.  Thousands more came home from overseas, combining the election with a pre-Chinese New Year visit to family and friends.  Democracy and the right to vote are cherished, and the level of enthusiasm was clear.  Yes, it was a very BIG day for Taiwan!

Thankfully voting went peacefully, and by early evening, it was clear that President Tsai had won a second term.  She received 8.2 million votes, 57% of the ballot, which is over a million more votes than she got first-time round in 2016. Her main rival, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) won 5.5 million votes, 38 % of the ballot.  The DPP also won a majority of seats in the Legislature with 61 seats, the KMT took 38, and smaller parties took the remaining 14. 

We give thanks to God for safe and smooth elections yesterday, and please do keep President Tsai and her government in your prayers as she starts a second term. For more information, see the following news reports:

Taipei Times: 2020 Elections: Tsai wins by a landslide and 2020 Elections: DPP maintains its legislative majority

The Guardian Int’l Edition: Taiwan election: Tsai Ing-Wen wins landslide in rebuke to China

BBC: Taiwan election: Tsai Ing-wen wins second presidential term

And Taiwan’s next big event, coming up soon: Chinese New Year! Spring is coming too. The cherry blossom was coming out yesterday, and there are ponkan trees everywhere covered in fruits…

Ponkan 椪柑 ‘Chinese Honey Orange’ – a citrus hybrid (mandarin × pomelo), and just so delicious!

Must-Visit: Badouzi and Shenao Elephant Trunk Rock!🐘🐘🐘

Taiwan’s N. E. Coast on a sunny day is THE place to go, and especially Chaojing Park 潮境公園 at Badouzi 八斗子 in Keelung, and Shenao Elephant Trunk Rock 深澳象鼻岩 in Ruifang. They make for a great day trip from Taipei: it’s become a must-see, must-go place for everyone. And not wanting to miss out on what’s going on, so we had to go too!

From St. John’s University, that area of Taiwan’s NE coast is about 60 km away, that’s 90+ minutes drive on a good day, but at least double that if you go by public transport – that’s us! There’s 2 ways to go, either round the northern coast through Keelung on the No. 862 bus – but on a Saturday morning that bus is slow and full of people going shopping in Keelung – so instead, we went through Taipei, by bus and MRT to Yuanshan, where we took the No. 1579 bus, which runs every 15 minutes from Yuanshan MRT Station, destination Badouzi. It takes an hour, avoids us changing in Keelung and is really comfortable, a win-win!

Badouzi area has lots of little ports full of fishing boats, many with lights for attracting squid on night-fishing trips…

We headed first to Chaojing Park… plenty of hills to climb, cafes, playgrounds, things to see and do, even a red temple…

It turns out, in this article here that, “This rugged headland ….. was an island until the 1930s. The Japanese colonial authorities filled in the trench between the island and the “mainland” so they could build a power station. The plant burned coal until 1981. Much later, its shell was re-purposed into part of the marine museum”. That museum is the ‘National Museum of Marine Science and Technology‘ (國立海洋科技博物館), but we had no time to go there – we were too busy enjoying the fine weather outside! The views below are from Badouzi across the bay towards Shenao in the foreground, while in the far distance are the mountains surrounding the old mining town of Jiufen, once known as ‘Little Shanghai’, and now a major tourist destination – I was there only a few weeks ago. Just don’t go to Jiufen on a weekend, especially by bus, you’ll never get out!

Next stop was Badouzi Railway Station, possibly Taiwan’s most scenic railway station – though there’s also a similar view from the one at Duoliang in Taitung, it’s also right on the sea, so, well, it’s a bit competitive!

The railway was built to serve the local mining industry of coal, gold and copper, but these days it runs for tourists, and we happened to arrive at Badouzi Station just as one of the hourly trains was in…

Then a bus turned up and we got on and headed to Shenao Fishing Port. From a distance, the cliff face looks a bit like a face outline of a very unfriendly giant…

There were lots of fishing boats – and fishermen relaxing on a sunny Saturday afternoon…..

Shenao is a major stop for tour buses – and for people going to see the Elephant Trunk Rock, at the end of the promontory… an impressive sight eh?!

Until last year, unbelievably, the whole rock – the head of the elephant – was completely open to people walking all over it, until someone fell off and was killed in October 2018. Fortunately it is now roped off and a lifeguard is on duty. Most of the visitors are older rather than younger, and there is no fixed path to get there, so everyone staggers from rock to rock – we even met one lady in high-heeled shoes! 🤔 The rocks are the same as at Yehliu, all mushroom shaped – and that is Keelung Island in the distance..

The views over towards Jiufen are spectacular…

From there we tried to get back to Keelung, but after waiting ages for a bus, a lady taxi-driver pulled over, and as she had a cross in her windscreen too, so we went with her to Keelung where she dropped us at the Miaokou Temple Night Market – the journey cost about NT$ 300, but there were 3 of us, so it was well worth it. She said buses are few and far between on weekend afternoons, and they are all full and take ages cos there’s so many people trying to get home. Anyway, she started out as one of only 2 lady taxi drivers in Keelung 30 years ago, but now there’s 50-60 of them. That’s quite a lot of lady taxi drivers for such a relatively small place like Keelung. She was just starting work that day, she works mostly late afternoons and well into the night, cos there’s more customers then, and yes she’s a committed Christian. She had quite a testimony! And she told us the best things to eat at the night market too – crab, oyster omelette, sandwich, pao-pao-bing and tempura. We tried them all except the crab. Very good! And from there we got the No. 862 bus back to St. John’s University, which took 90 minutes – in the dark.

Y’know, it always seems a very long way to Taiwan’s far NE coast past Keelung; it takes ages to get there and back, but it’s worth it, especially on a sunny day! The weather was really amazing. Warm and sunny but with a nice breeze. I had my 2 friends, Ah-Guan and Miao-Shia with me. It was their idea to go, but my cellphone that got us around ~ ah it was fun! They are from Taichung in central Taiwan – where sadly these days they say there are hardly any days with a deep blue sky – it’s all hazy, cos of the poor air quality. Anyway, they’re so happy to be here!

And the highlight of the day? It must be that elephant rock, oh and the views over towards Jiufen. What a place! We have an elephant rock here and an elephant mountain in Taipei. So if you like big grey animals, do come and visit! This was the wall mural in Shenao …

Ah yes, we just love our elephants! 🐘🐘🐘