Category Archives: Taiwan

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! 🐘🐘🐘

富貴角燈塔 Fuguijiao Lighthouse @ Taiwan’s Northern Tip!

Only 12 km up the road from St. John’s University is the northern tip of Taiwan, easily accessible by bus and then a 15-minute walk, which leads to the Fuguijiao Lighthouse 富貴角燈塔 .

The original lighthouse was built by the Japanese in 1897, apparently the first one built in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial era ~ this one was put up in 1962. On the lighthouse compound are unused lookout posts, pillbox-style and the lighthouse is right next to an army base, but the grounds have been open to the public since 2015. It’s famous for its foghorn, much in use during winter. On a sunny day, it’s pretty spectacular – these photos were taken a few days ago, just after 4:00 pm – check out the lighthouse sundial.

Just wishing every winter day on Taiwan’s northern coast could have weather like this!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God!

Battle of Tamsui @1884 Commemorated on the Danhai Light Rail

Qing Defenders

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

Light Rail Train with ‘1884’ on the front

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Taiwan’s 921 Earthquake 20 years on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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