Category Archives: Taiwan

Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 and Paiwan 排灣族 Harvest Festival 豐年祭 @ Nantian Village, Daren Township, Taitung 台東縣達仁鄉南田村, Taiwan

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Yes, the Alangyi Historic Trail 阿朗壹古道 is THE trail to hike!  And especially when the sea and the sky are blue, blue, blue ~ like they were on Saturday ~ YES YES YES!

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The Alangyi Trail runs maybe 8-10 km along the S.E. coast of Taiwan, and walking it takes about 4-5 hours ~ from the very southern tip of Taitung County across into Mudan Township 牡丹鄉, Pingtung County, finishing at Xuhai 旭海 Village, famous for its hot springs and grassland.  The trail is significant in that it is the only section of the whole Taiwan coastline where there is no road. No road means no cars, no lorries, no coaches, no random tourists, no 7-elevens (always a sign of economic development!) ~ and to preserve the natural environment, the area is established as a nature reserve, and strictly managed.  But this only happened after years of protests and disputes about whether to build a road or not.  Fortunately wisdom prevailed, and the Alangyi Trail is just fantastic!

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Nowadays, only 300 people are allowed on the trail per day, permits are required, a guide is needed per 20 people and there are police on duty at either end of the trail.  During the summer, the temperatures are boiling hot, and there are few people hiking on the trail.  In fact, we only met one other group, 30+ youngsters from Changhua – going in the other direction.  Fortunately we had a nice breeze to blow us along!  A typhoon was slowly heading towards Taiwan, but still far off, and as often happens a day or two before a typhoon, the weather was really great (as I write this on Wednesday morning, 3 days later, the typhoon is roaring around outside as it passes northern Taiwan)!

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It is truly an amazing walk, with incredible views!  Is it easy?  Yes.  Is it difficult?  Yes. Both / and!  Much of the walk is right down near sea-level, along the upper part of the stony beach, but at the rocky promontory that is called Guanyin’s Nose 觀音鼻, everyone has to ascend 150m to go up and over the top and down the other side.  It is very steep, so ropes are supplied to grab onto, and there’s steps in some places.  But hey, the views are spectacular – and see the turtle-shaped rock down below!

For centuries, the Alangyi Trail was used by the local indigenous peoples to get from place to place along the coast.  The local indigenous people in that area are mostly the Paiwan People 排灣族 (pause here while you open that link to the Wikipedia site to read about the Paiwan People – it’s fascinating)…. Wonder if in years gone by, they enjoyed this stream as much as we did at the end of the trail?  Yes, we got soaked, but it was oh so refreshing!

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My good friends from Advent Church, 選櫻 (Hsuen-Ying, Grace) and her husband 生豐 (Sheng-Feng, Simon), invited me to join a group of their friends (mostly Grace’s former high school / college classmates and their families – all very lovely!) who they had invited to spend the weekend visiting Grace’s home village of Nantian, in Daren Township, Taitung (台東縣達仁鄉南田村).  This is Grace and Simon… as romantic as always!

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Grace is Paiwan, Taiwan’s second largest indigenous group, and Simon is Amis, Taiwan’s largest indigenous group – who mostly live further north in the Hualien area.  These days there is a certain friendly rivalry between the different tribes / groups ~ although in the past, things were not always so friendly!  Both Grace and Simon work at TamKang High School, Tamsui (as did 2 others in our group), and the school has a teddy bear mascot that travels around with them all over, including on the Alangyi Trail!

Nantian Village is the southernmost village in Taitung County, and runs along a single road between the mountains and the sea. Most people coming to Taitung from the west coast do so over the mountain road from Pingtung, this is the first area they reach on the east coast.  For cyclists on the round-Taiwan circuit, it’s a welcome relief to get over the mountains and down to the coast. But the only people passing through Nantian itself are on their way to the northern entrance of the Alangyi Historic Trail.  Within a few minutes of starting the trail, there’s a river, and that is the border between Taitung and Pingtung – and it is just over that river that the police have a checkpoint to check permits.

And what else is going on in Nantian?  Well, there’s fish farming, mainly for shrimp, there’s a camp site, small guest houses, a cement factory out on the main road, 2 Presbyterian churches, and a beautiful stony beach.  In the past, the stones were big and well-rounded, so people collected them up and carved them for sale.  These days, apparently the coast has changed, the sea level is rising, the stones are much smaller, and well, it’s not easy to make a good living.  Many of the local people have moved away to the cities looking for work – and return for festivals, and some in their retirement.

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Some scenes of Nantian and the local area, starting with the chief’s stone…

There’s an interesting bamboo art work installed there too, ‘The Vector of the South‘ 南方以南 ~ the bamboo looks like waves coming up from the shore, over the seawall and across the fields….

Grace’s elder brother, who we call ‘Da-Ge’ 大哥 (literally ‘big brother’) returned to the family home 10+ years ago, after quite some time in northern Taiwan, to take up his responsibilities as one of the chiefs of the Paiwan Tribe.  He is just so lovely!  He kept us entertained with stories, songs and jokes, and he and his wife are such committed Christians, sharing their faith, testimonies, choruses and music with everyone!  They, together with relatives and members of the village, welcomed us into their lives for the weekend ~ they were just so hospitable and generous.  By inviting us to join their village for the weekend, we could learn so much about their culture and traditions, and they were able to get some income from taking care of us ~ such visits are officially known as (starting with their Paiwan name), ‘Jakisuvung Cultural and Educational Eco-Tourism’ 家給蘇豐文教生態旅遊.  We stayed in a local guest house (B&B), which was run by the lady who was our guide for the Alangyi Trail, and whose younger sister was Grace’s former classmate!

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The Paiwan Harvest Festival 豐年祭 is an annual event in many Paiwan communities, celebrating a successful millet / rice harvest, and copious amounts of millet / rice wine are on offer!  It involved a whole weekend of activities in Nantian Village, starting on Saturday morning with the official opening ceremony when VIPs from the local government, the elected official representative from Taitung County Council, tribal chiefs and many others came along. There was dancing and singing too….

The main event of the day was the archery competition ~ wow, they are so skilled!  Every village has a team and they were all there, competing all morning.  Women, men, old, young, everyone took part; apparently they practice for hours – and it shows!

We even had a go ourselves, though we only shot from half the distance – and still managed to miss, ha ha! But Grace, who said this was her first time to try, got a bull’s eye, first time.  Actually it’s not a bull, it’s a mountain pig!

And then we all went off up the river, through the river in fact, wading upstream until we came to a clearing where we had a really fun Paiwan-style barbecue.  In fact, 3 days later and I can still smell that smoke all over!

The following day, the community spent the morning killing and preparing the pig, and certain other ceremonies.  The main event of the festival for us was on Sunday evening. Just beforehand, the heavens opened, the rain came down, and they decided to relocate to the village community centre. Da-Ge’s wife and the ladies of the village had been cooking all afternoon, and there were huge amounts of delicious Paiwan-style food. “Must try everything”, they said. Just don’t ask in too much detail what everything is – and remember that nothing in that mountain pig goes to waste!  Ah, I had a great time!

Most of the people were there in traditional Paiwan costumes, and we had flower head rings….

And there was dancing.  There’s always dancing at festivals, and we joined in too.  I filmed the following video for 5 minutes before I got down and joined the end of the line!  Do watch – and keep an eye on the blue bucket of millet / rice wine 小米酒 in the middle of the table, and the ‘waiters’ who go around serving everyone!

And this was the final dance – just for the community themselves… watch to the end, but I had to stop filming at the final minute, I was laughing so much!

On Monday morning, our group had a chance to visit Da-Ge’s home and try on some of their traditional Paiwan costumes.  There is apparently no special significance to the colours, blue, red, black – it’s personal choice.  We also had a chance to wear the chief’s headdress, which is, oh, so heavy!  The rules are that at ceremonies and festivals, only the chief and his family can wear the headdresses, but in their home and for photos at other times, anyone can try them on.  So we did!

We also visited a massive huge tree, Bischofia javanica (considered sacred, hence the red ribbon).  That’s where we learned all about the local ecology and more.  Teddy came too!

What else?  Well, actually I had arrived a day earlier than most of our group, and together with Grace and Simon, the 3 of us went to visit the newly-opened social welfare center run by the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross 聖十字架慈愛修女會 (known as the Maria Theresia Social Welfare Foundation 財團法人台東縣私立天主教聖十字架瑪利德蘭社會福利基金會) in Shangwu Village 尚武村, Dawu Township 大武鄉, which is very near Nantian ~ in fact it was in Dawu that Grace went to junior high school.  And the first person we met when we arrived at the center there was one of her old classmates. Ah it’s a small world!  This is their church and fruit growing in the garden. The fruit is Morinda citrifolia, known as cheese fruit / vomit fruit / starvation fruit, and I can tell you it is totally 100% disgusting!

In December 2016, St. John’s University and Advent Church raised NT$ 325,000 (US$ 10,000) as part of our annual fund-raising project and donated it to the sisters (see that blog post here) for their ministry.  They were planning to convert their kindergarten classrooms into a day care center for elderly local people.  Thanks be to God that the work is completed, and the official opening ceremony and mass was held on June 16, 2018.  We couldn’t go to the ceremony, but we were able to visit on Friday instead.  They are still waiting for the final permission from the local authorities to be able to use the new buildings, and we had a tour – they are so light, bright, well-equipped and fully furnished.  It was so good to meet Sr. Miljenka Schnetzer 宋玉潔修女 again, she arrived in Taiwan from Switzerland in 1979, and has been in Shangwu since 1992….

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We also visited the famous train station at Duoliang 多良, famous because if you stand there long enough a train will come out of the tunnel and pass by – such a pretty photo-op ha ha!

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And then there were the sunrises over the sea – 2 of them in fact.  On Friday we got up and left at 4:30 am to see the sunrise from the high viewpoint…

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And then again on Monday morning, when there was more cloud – the only sign that the typhoon was coming.  Great that we could still see Lanyu and Lyudao Islands from up there (but too far away to appear in the photo)….

One of the main highlights of the whole weekend was meeting Grace’s family, especially her big brother and his wife and family.  I had dinner at their home on Friday evening.  They are so friendly and welcoming!  This is Da-Ge and Simon…

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And yes, we spent a lot of time laughing!  Da-Ge’s wife told me that on the chief’s headdress there are some tufts of red hair, and yep, sure they’re there – and very red!

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She said that those tufts of red hair represent the hair of the foreigners who had had their heads chopped off by the Paiwan people in years gone by, when they arrived on the Taiwan coast to invade and attack the people here.  The Paiwan were a headhunting people, and always kept some of the hair as a mark of pride.  It’s true.  That was really what was happening along the Alangyi Historic Trail all those centuries ago.  It might all look very scenic and beautiful now, but in those days it was not a place where visitors were assured of a warm welcome!

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Wikipedia says, “In the past the Paiwan had a fearsome reputation as head-hunters. When Paiwan warriors returned home from a headhunting foray, the women would gather together in front of the courtyard to welcome their heroes and would sing songs of triumph. The heads of their enemies were then hung on stone pillars in front of which were displayed wine and offerings.” The Japanese, Americans, Dutch, Spanish all came to Taiwan – either to invade and attack, or they were trying to pass by the island on their way elsewhere but got shipwrecked in a typhoon, and many of them were attacked and killed.  Check out the Rover Incident of 1867 and the Mudan Incident of 1871, the latter took place in Mudan, which is at the Pingtung end of the Alangyi Trail.  It led to the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1874, and eventually Taiwan came under Japanese rule  from 1895-1945, during which the Japanese tried to control and subdue the indigenous peoples, leading to endless conflicts, armed uprisings, massacres – and resulting in even more oppression.  Many indigenous people, including Grace’s family (in the time of her great-grandparents and grandparents) were forced to relocate during the Japanese colonial era – they moved from Pingtung to Taitung, eventually settling in Nantian.

The Dutch are famously remembered in Taiwan as having red hair (here in Tamsui we have Fort San Domingo, known as 紅毛城, the ‘fort of the red-heads’, originally built by the Spanish and then seized by the Dutch, and rebuilt by them in 1644).  Hence the tufts of red hair in the headdress!  So we spent all weekend laughing together about whether I was gonna get my head chopped off before we left on Monday – and wondering whether I’d live to see another day!

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But Da-Ge assured me that now that Paiwan people are Christians, love has conquered all.  No longer do we need to kill each other, but we can live and work together in peace.  We’re all one family, of whatever tribe – and even whatever colour hair!  That’s the main theme of the song sung at the festival, where everyone joined hands to dance. These days even the shaman’s traditional rituals associated with the harvest festival are replaced by prayers to Almighty God, giving thanks and asking for God’s blessing, and all in Jesus’ name.  And here we all are, one family!

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So, Grace is from a Paiwan family and Simon is from an Amis family.  Nowadays, such marriages are very common.  In Advent Church, I like to tease Grace and Simon as being the most romantic couple in the church ~ they are members of the church choir, and they have quite some competition from other choir couples for that title!  But these two still win the prize ~ every day they are like they just got married.  And they just really like each other so much…. so adorable!

Thank God for a wonderful weekend of gracious people, deep culture, rich traditions, beautiful scenery, amazing weather, delicious foods, safe journeys and lots of laughter.

Thanks to Grace and Simon for all their leadership and organization, to all our group for their willingness to learn and to fit in with everyone and everything, and to Da-Ge and his wife and family for their warm welcome and kindness to us.  It was truly inspiring to see how God is working in one family, in one community, in one people, in one small corner of Taiwan, to His honour and glory!

The day the ceiling fell down…

Otherwise subtitled, never underestimate the power of termites.  Those horrible, terrible, awful, nightmarish creatures are eating their way through this country, ceiling by ceiling, house by house.

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So tiny, yet so powerful.  Gobsmacking what they can do.

So yes, finally the ceiling fell down.  Yesterday.  At 12 noon exactly.  The living room ceiling, no less.  This was the scene…

The whole ceiling was put in 4 years ago – obviously and sadly by a cowboy builder who used cheap wood.  And yes, the landlord deeply regrets asking him to do it.  In those 4 years, the termites have managed to eat their way through 2 of the ceilings.  Yesterday’s was the second.  Or the third if you count the one brought down by the typhoon 3 years ago, which was no doubt weakened by the termites.

Well, you have to laugh ~ I’ve been here 3 years, and this is my third ceiling to bite the dust. Hey it makes a great story!

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And if I stayed here much longer, they’d bring down the rest too.  There’s already signs that the back of the house is infested.

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Note that the termites are not eating the ceiling boards. The ceiling appears normal from below.  The termites are eating the wooden supports that are holding the ceiling up.  Completely eaten away.   So not until the ceiling is almost ready to fall does it start to droop and slope and that’s when it’s noticeable.

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Last summer, we replaced one ceiling before it fell. That’s when we discovered the termites.  This time, we just waited.  And so, with an almighty crash, it fell yesterday.  Bringing down the light fittings with it too.

Termites are also eating their way through my cardboard boxes.  The bigger the better.  Just don’t ask me what happened to all those Christmas decorations I used to have.  Gone.  To the termites.

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Today I’ve had a great time telling everyone my stories of my fallen ceilings.  And showing all the photos.  Ah, I love it.  Such a great story.  And so wonderful that it fell down yesterday at such a convenient time.  I’m never normally here at 12 noon on a Monday.  But I was yesterday.  Just arrived home, walked through the living room and into the kitchen. Grateful to God that it didn’t fall at that very moment.  But then again, I’ve been expecting that ceiling to fall since the weekend, been avoiding that area of the living room for about a week, and had cleared out all the things I had there.  Termites might work quietly and quickly, but not completely unnoticed.  Anyway, the landlord came immediately, got to work, and within 4 hours, everything was cleaned up.  Now looking great!

And the poor landlord was so nice and so apologetic that he returned later with a huge watermelon to say sorry.  Yummy yummy!

So, never ever ever underestimate the power of termites.

And, yes, Noah was a very brave man to sail in a wooden ark with 2 very very dangerous termites… 😊😊😊

Ximending 西門町 Street Art, Taipei

There’s a ton of graffiti-style street art in Taipei, mostly in Ximending ~ and with an hour to spare yesterday lunchtime I went over there to see what’s new.  Lots of new stuff has appeared since I was last there, all dated 2018.  This is a mishmash (sorry, artistic collage) of 29 photos of what’s there…

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Ximending at lunchtime is heaving with groups of young people and couples wheeling suitcases around, checking in and checking out of hotels ~ it’s THE place to stay for independent travelers from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Korea, Singapore etc.  Lively by day, and even livelier by night.

You can get a good feel of a city or country by how people paint their walls and buildings, inside and out, whether it’s Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, Picasso and his massive 3.5 x 7.8m mural, ‘Guernica’, or street artists painting urban walls in Taipei.

So to get the feel of Taipei, come on down to Ximending and check it all out!

Transformation by Colour Part 2 @ Kaohsiung 高雄 Street Art ~ and more!

Kaohsiung is definitely my New Favourite City.  Read this post I wrote in March to see why, and see the photos of the ‘Transformation by Colour’ that Kaohsiung is undergoing!  Previously I hated the place, now I love it.  Can’t get enough of it!  Just look at this ~ on the wall of the bus station.  THIS IS KAOHSIUNG!

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Kaohsiung is now Taiwan’s must-go, must-see city, YES YES YES!

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And really it’s all to do with the massive explosion in street art that has appeared in the city over the last few years.  Even boring old walls along the railway are painted in the most beautiful colours!

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Ah, 高雄: Kaohsiung ~ there’s even Chinese calligraphy as street art showing the city’s name….IMG_20180526_060318_521.jpg

This past weekend, I found myself accompanying some church visitors from the USA to Kaohsiung for them to perform in a music concert at St. Timothy’s Church, and then at the morning service at St. Paul’s Church. More news of that next week.  We were busy all day and all evening, but early mornings were free.  What better time to visit my favourite places in Kaohsiung?

This is just on the way to the MRT from St. Paul’s Church, there’s street art all over! 

Blue skies, empty streets, that was early morning this past weekend in Kaohsiung…

My very favouritest place in Kaohsiung is the area around Weiwuying MRT Station 衛武營 on the MRT Orange Line (exit 5, turn right onto Jianjun 建軍 Road) , where the street art is at its best. On my previous visit in February / March, we had visited that area late in the afternoon and the sun was perfect for viewing the whole road of street art, seems like almost every building is covered in bright colours (see my post from March for those photos).  Go in the late afternoon for that view.

In the early morning, there’s plenty of other art on walls of buildings where the light is good. And new ones too that I hadn’t seen before.  And people just wandering around buying things in the street market, surrounded by all this amazing street art. Love it!

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Weiwuying is in Kaohsiung’s Lingya District 苓雅, and the name ‘Lingya’ is painted here in Chinese on the side of a large wall, by street artist ‘Silks’… 

The area’s old military base is now becoming the new ‘Weiwuying National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts‘…

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And nearby, across the road is where all the street art is concentrated.  Now there’s a QR code that you can scan and it brings up Google Maps showing exactly where all the individual artworks are.  Brilliant.  So I could walk all over the area of Lingya District following the map and taking a few photos. Much painting is still going on… works in progress.

Some of it is quite a unique style…

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And then yesterday I visited the Pier 2 area, where early in the morning there was hardly anybody about.  Lots of huge murals…

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And lots of quirky street art, decorating things like wall fans, or electrical boxes with fun art…love it too! 

There’s lots of these ‘people’ everywhere, some are huge… 

Yes, must-go, must-see Kaohsiung, it’s changing all the time.  Love this crocodile below.  Kinda sums up Kaohsiung, you never know what you’re going to see next!  I stared at this close up for ages before walking away and looking back and suddenly realizing what it was.  Surprise, surprise, it’s a crocodile, holding a spray can of paint!

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Check out this great blog post,’Street Art in Kaohsiung‘ from the blog, Kathmandu and Beyond 

This is the Google map locations of the street art in Lingya District…. 

And come and see it all for yourself!

Escaping Taipei’s Heat up in Wulai 烏來!

Ah, Wulai.  Think hot springs, cherry blossom and Atayal indigenous culture.  And mountain scenery.

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And views…

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And, sadly, in the last few years, think typhoons too.  Wulai has had more than its fair share of bad news.  Most recently, “in August 2015, Wulai was devastated by Typhoon Soudelor, wiping out several hotels and destroying hot springs in the region. The course of the Nanshi River that passes through the district changed and the riverbank was eroded heavily by surging water. Heavy landslides were attributed to the overdevelopment of the mountain areas around the river which damaged the soil and watershed along the slope lands”.

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But restoration work on the riverbed is ongoing, new bridges are going up and there are diggers and cranes and all sorts of construction work going on.  Wulai is on the mend!

The cable car is working again, the Yun Hsien Resort way up on the mountain top is open again, the Wulai Trolley Car is up and running, cafes and restaurants and hot spring hotels are ready and waiting for visitors.

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This past week, temperatures in Taipei have been setting May records, 37ºC and more, but ‘feels like 42°’.  Sweltering heat and humidity, and, despite thunderstorm warnings, none seems to have materialized to break the heat.  None where I’ve been anyway.  So, what better place to go than Wulai to seek some respite?  I was there yesterday.  Actually it was still baking hot ~ but only 33, ‘feeling like 39’, and that’s way better than 42!  Ah well, at least this frog was happy ~ a ‘Swinhoes Frog’ Odorrana Swinhoana, endemic to Taiwan and named after naturalist, Robert Swinhoe, 1836-77, who served as Bristish Consul in Tamsui.

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Wulai is a mountain town 25 km south of Taipei, easily accessible by bus (No. 849), taking 40 minutes from Xindian MRT Station – at the end of the green MRT line.  And only costs NT$ 15!  The road winds up and up to 250 m (not particularly high altitude, but feels like it!) and comes to a stop at the entrance to Wulai Town, perched on the steep banks of the Nanshi River.  The town is sprawling and nothing special as a town, but its location is.  And as it’s the home for the Atayal people 泰雅族, everywhere is decorated in their symbols and colours.

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Check out the RC Church, dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, built in 1963.  I met Fr. Arturo from Chile who serves there, dressed in Atayal colours.  Lots going on there, he was getting ready for a mass.  On Sundays, he gets about 30 people coming along, and he had a class of children on Saturday waiting to start too.  We even had a photo taken together..

Check out the 80m high waterfall, 25 minutes walk up the road.  Beautiful.

The river looks almost turquoise from the road above…

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And check out the cable car that runs up to the Yun Hsien Resort.  The cable car crosses the river with amazing views down.  Takes all of 2 minutes.  Costs NT$ 220, which includes cable car return trip and entry to the resort.

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The view from the top of the cable car looking down at Wulai ~ you can see where all the landslides have taken place….

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Yun Hsien Resort 雲仙樂園 is really quite incredible.  Who would ever think to build a resort up there on the very top of the mountain, and accessible only by cable car?  The temperatures up there were several degrees cooler than down in Wulai, and there was a nice breeze. There’s a hotel, boating lake, flowers and forest walks and archery and all sorts of things to do and look at.  Even peacocks.  But its main attraction has to be its location.  It is quite an incredible feat of construction to build a resort up there.

The flowerbed turns out to be Taiwan-shaped!

Views from the cable car on the return journey….

And back to Wulai Old Street by the Wulai Scenic Train 烏來台車 which started life as a rail cart, originally designed by the Japanese government in 1928 to transport timber, logging tools, tea and passengers – now only used by tourists.  NT$ 50 one way.

Must-visit the Wulai Atayal Museum 烏來泰雅民族博物館 which has lots of displays – and English explanations.  Most interesting are the facial tattoos, headhunting traditions, displays of weaving of the local people ~ oh yes, and the added bonus of air conditioning!

And of course there’s plenty to eat in Wulai, and drink, and things to buy.

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A good place to visit from Taipei for the day ~ lots of people cycle up to the waterfall from Taipei, others enjoy the hot springs – but really they’re best in winter, or they just relax in the river.  Plenty to do and see, and eat ~ and help the Atayal people of Wulai get back on their feet after the typhoon disaster of 2015.  An interesting place.  Even if the natural environment is badly damaged and over-developed with resorts and hotels for the tourism industry.  Still, let’s hope and pray that this year’s typhoon season is kinder on the people of Wulai than in the past.

‘陽明山東西大縱走活動’ ‘Yang-Ming Shan East-West Vertical Traverse’ 2018!

Can’t quite believe it.  10 mountains.  10 hours of walking.  1 day.  25 km.  53, 437 steps.  Highest point: 1,120 m.  The WHOLE Yang-Ming Shan traverse.  Up and down, and down and up all day long.  Steep steep steep, but dry.  No mud.  A little sun. Perfect!

All 10 mountain markers….

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Yang-Ming Shan is the range of mountains above Taipei City.  I’ve been up there many times and done the whole ‘traverse’ in sections before.  This time last year, I did it all over 2 days (see that report here).  This is the first time ever I’ve done the whole thing in one day.  This is the highest point, Qixing Main Peak, 1120 m, and the one with the most people, ha ha!

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Started off intending to do only half, but met some people who were doing the whole thing and somehow we all ended up doing it all together.  Started at Qingtian Temple in Beitou at 7:10 am.  Ended at Fenguikou Trail-head about 5:00 pm in time for the 6:10 pm bus down the mountain.  So actually I did it west to east, despite the title.

These butterflies were having a slightly more relaxing day than we were!

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And today?  E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D!

Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park 景美人權文化園區, Taipei

Prepare to be seriously uncomfortable.  This museum is not for the faint-hearted.   It is gruesome, horrible, degrading, and yet strangely compelling; all at the same time.  The fact that it exists at all is a testament to the vision and determination of some of those who were incarcerated there and who were prepared to work hard to ensure its success.  It is a must-visit kind of place.  But only with a must-be-prepared state of mind to listen, learn and reflect.  For here, in this place, you will come face to face with what man’s inhumanity to man means in real life.

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The Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park is the site of the former Jingmei Military Law Detention Center of the Taiwan Garrison Command (1968-87) where political prisoners were incarcerated, indicted and sentenced during Taiwan’s White Terror Era ~ the suppression of political dissidents following the February 28 Incident in 1947.  Martial law in Taiwan lasted from 1949-1987.

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The White Terror Era 白色恐怖 was indeed a very very dark chapter in Taiwan’s history.  And it was not that long ago.  Many of the victims and some of the perpetrators are still alive today.

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From Wikipedia: “The term “White Terror” in its broadest meaning refers to the entire period from 1947 to 1987. Around 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned during this period, of which from about 3,000 to 4,000 were executed for their real or perceived opposition to the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party) government led by Chiang Kai-shek. Most actual prosecutions, though, took place in 1950–1953. Most of those prosecuted were labeled by the Kuomintang as “bandit spies” (匪諜), meaning spies for Chinese communists, and punished as such.  The KMT imprisoned mostly Taiwan’s intellectual and social elite out of fear that they might resist KMT rule or sympathize with communism.”

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What is now the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park, in Jingmei, Taipei was the place where many of these political victims were held in custody, prosecuted, tried and imprisoned. These days it is part memorial, part museum, and is open to the public, free of charge.  There’s a free audio guide in English with 19 audio-places to visit.  I was there yesterday afternoon, and spent 2 hours wandering around, seeing everything.

The actual memorial is at the main entrance to the museum, titled ‘Imprisonment and Liberation.’ The victims’ names are added too, with the dates of their imprisonment(s) in white or, for many, the date of their execution, in red.

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“With towering walls symbolizing confinement, the jagged monument penetrating the site of the former Prosecutor’s Office for Military Tribunal like a sharp razor represents the deconstruction of authoritarian power.  The space between the directional folding walls narrows and widens, as if swinging in between states of imprisonment and liberation, before it eventually leads towards White Dove Square, that symbolizes freedom”.

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From there, we move to the nearby military courts, set up as they were for the trials in 1980 of the leaders of the Kaohsiung Incident, which received widespread international coverage and media attention.

The 6 military barracks are now filled with displays and exhibitions.

But the most infamous building is the Ren-Ai Building, the actual prison.

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Many of the rooms have displays showing what they would have been used for during the time they were in use.  The guard room, where prisoners would enter the prison, and from where they would leave for their executions or further imprisonment, has a clock set at 4:04 am (the word for number 4 (四 sì) sounds like the word “death” (死 sǐ) in Chinese). Shackles hang on the walls.

There’s also a medical room and a small shop.

And the room where family members would have had the chance for a 10-minute talk (must be in Mandarin Chinese) to a prisoner via the telephone on the other side of the glass wall.  All calls, all letters, all contact were of course monitored. The Chinese characters, 肅靜 (su-jing) meaning ‘Quiet’ are painted on the walls.

The cells also have displays of how the prisoners would have lived.  The cells are small, cramped, smelly.  Many were kept in solitary confinement.  Others had padded cells in case of self-inflicted violence.  All were very hot and humid in summer, and damp and horrible in winter.

The prison guard has his own cell, nicely done out with bed and desk and even a closet for clothes.

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Outside are the exercise yards.

On the other side are the work rooms.  Some of the lower-risk prisoners had jobs working maybe 10 hours a day in the prison laundry, washing, ironing, folding clothes and sheets, not just for the prison, but also for other government agencies, like the military hospital.  There’s also the boiler room, the canteen, the library, and an exhibition.

The main entrance to the prison…

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When I visited yesterday, there was a group of about 15 people on the guided tour that starts each day at 2:30 pm, and there were also a small number of family groups going around on their own. The place is hardly over-visited.  It is also not exactly easy to get to, a 20-minute-walk from the nearest MRT station (Dapinglin) and 15 minutes from the nearest You Bike station.  Instagram shows some school groups visiting, but not many.

But it is well worth visiting.  This aspect of Taiwan’s history is uncomfortable for many.  In May 2016, as part of her inaugural address, Taiwan new president, Tsai Ing-Wen announced plans to set up a truth and reconciliation committee, to “address the historical past in the most sincere and cautious manner. The goal of transitional justice is to pursue true social reconciliation, so that all Taiwanese can take to heart the mistakes of that era.”  In December 2017, the Act on Promoting Transitional Justice 促進轉型正義條例 was passed.  However, a lot of people remain less than enthusiastic, and many questions remain, well explained in this article here.  What to do with the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial is part of that debate, and due to its prime location and appeal to tourists, it is one that brings forth many and varied opinions.

Many of the prisoners from Jingmei went on to serve their sentences in the prison on Green Island, off Taiwan’s SE coast.  Watch this space – we hope to visit!

A few months ago I visited Cambodia’s Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (see that report here).  Ever since then, I’ve been meaning to visit the Jingmei Human Rights Memorial and Cultural Park and learn a bit more about Taiwan’s darkest era.  Ah, Cambodia AND Taiwan.  Both went through hell.  Both are trying to come to terms with what happened.  But visiting a country and living in a country are 2 different things – and call for 2 different responses.  The scale was different, and it is difficult not to compare the two, and in doing so, there’s a risk of trivializing Taiwan’s own experiences.  For those in Taiwan who suffered during the White Terror era, it was a long and terrible nightmare, and what happened at military detention centers such as Jingmei will haunt Taiwan for generations to come.

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The Christian faith teaches that confession, forgiveness and reconciliation are part of the process of healing.  Jesus’ words, “The truth will set you free” are part of that teaching.  Chinese culture emphasizes harmony, often at the expense of truth.  But it is only when the truth is told and justice is brought, so healing can begin, reconciliation be achieved and true harmony descends.

Prayers requested.  For Taiwan.  For us all.  And for God’s mercy to prevail.

Updated on May 11, 2018: for my post on our visit to Green Island, including the visit to the prisons there, please see the link here

Updated again on May 19, 2018: today’s Taipei Times is reporting here on the official opening of the Jingmei Human Rights Museum that took place yesterday, the day after the official opening of the Green Island Human Rights Museum, both run by the same government department.