Tag Archives: Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treasures of 台南 Tainan!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taiwan’s Culture and Stinky Tofu ~ with our friends from Latin America and the Caribbean!😊😊😊

Yes, 3 more busy days out in the last 2 weeks visiting some wonderful places around northern Taiwan with our 18 lovely friends from Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who are here at St. John’s University as part of the “2019 Latin American and Caribbean Countries Vocational Training Project: Electrical and Electronic Engineering 拉丁美洲及加勒比海地區友邦技職訓練計畫-電機工程實務技術英語班”, in association with ‘TaiwanICDF‘.

Last Saturday off we went through the Xueshan Tunnel, Taiwan’s longest at 12.9 km ~ it runs through the mountains from Taipei to the east coast at Yilan. Since opening in 2006, it’s really changed Taiwan’s east coast, with lots of development, tourism and business opportunities opening up. There’s lots of traffic too, especially on a Saturday when everyone is in that tunnel trying to get out of the big city, escaping for the day or weekend to breathe in some fresh sea air and relax….

And so we joined them, but it took us 3 hours (yes, 3 whole hours!) from St. John’s University to get to our first main stop at Lanyang Museum 蘭陽博物館. The museum has really good displays about the local area, and gave us distant views through the haze over towards Guishan Island. Guishan Island (Turtle Island) is actually the protruding top of Taiwan’s only active volcano. Our friends from Latin America and Caribbean have plenty of active volcanoes in their own countries, so it’s good that Taiwan has one to show to visitors too! This is us at the museum…

Lanyang Museum building was “designed by a team led by Kris Yao those design was inspired by the ‘cuestas’ commonly seen along Beiguan Coast. The museum adopts the geometric shapes of the cuestas where the roof protrudes from the ground at an angle of 20 degrees meeting a wall which rises from the ground at an angle of 70 degrees.” Really impressive. I liked it. Not sure about that big apartment building right behind it, but hey, at least the residents must have a good view!

We spent the day driving around Yilan, enjoying local foods and restaurants and seeing the countryside. At lunchtime, the rain started – and poured down for the next 3 hours, so we spent the afternoon visiting the famous Kavalan Whisky Distillery ~ which also houses Mr. Brown coffee. A little secret ~ the Kavalan Sweet Coffee Liqueur is really delicious, and there was plenty of it to sample ~ but shhh, don’t tell anyone. Ah, but it was a fun day!

Then last Monday, we went to the National Palace Museum, Taipei – it is Taipei’s ‘must-go, must-see’ museum on every visitor’s itinerary, but it’s impossible to see it all on one trip. We had 2 hours and saw but a fraction of the displays, though we did have a detailed tour in English about the bronzes in the museum…

In the afternoon we paid a quick visit to Xiaoyoukeng in Yangmingshan National Park to see the smoking – and very smelly – fumaroles in the mist. Not, apparently, as magnificent or as smelly (thank goodness!) as the ones in St. Lucia, but hey, these ones are smelly enough!

And today (part of the 3-day Mid-Autumn Moon Festival), we spent the day south-west of Taipei. Our first stop was the Yingge Ceramics Museum – which may look kind of grim and brutalist on the outside, but inside the museum, the displays are really creatively presented, reflecting its past as Taiwan’s ceramic town – due to its special clay.

We had a short guided tour in English and then I rushed around taking some photos. Even the luggage lockers are ceramic…

We also visited Sanxia Old Street, built in the Japanese era in baroque style and restored a few years ago. We tried all the local delicacies, including pig’s blood cake and stinky tofu – some of which, well, let’s put it this way, didn’t go down too well with some of us! The croissants and ice-cream though were delicious!

After lunch, we went to Daxi Old Tea Factory…..

And then to Cihu Mausoleum 慈湖陵寢 , “the temporary resting place of President Chiang Kai-shek. When Chiang Kai-shek died in 1975, he was not buried in the traditional Chinese fashion but entombed in a black marble sarcophagus since he expressed the wish to be eventually buried in his native Fenghua in Zhejiang province once the Kuomintang (KMT) recovered mainland China from the Communists.” We went to see the changing of the guard ceremony that takes place every hour on the hour ~ we were there for the one at 3:00 pm. Wow, it was so hot, bees were buzzing around and we were directly facing into the afternoon sun. But then the honor guard must have been even hotter, after standing for an hour in their heavy uniforms without moving….

There’s also the Cihu Lake and the surrounding sculpture park where all the ‘removed’ statues of Chiang Kai-Shek are on display….

Our Latin America and Caribbean group of students are so lively and fun, and we’re making the most of their time in Taiwan to take them out and about, showing them the sights and introducing them to Taiwan’s rich culture and history. We enjoy all the delicious (and let’s face it, some not so delicious!) foods on offer at each place, and of course we take a few photos too ~ and I’m grateful that they all think really creatively when I request a pose!

Thanks to St. John’s University for planning all these great trips. Already looking forward to the next one ~ coming soon!

The Very First Banksy Exhibition opens in Taipei!

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

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

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

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

These are my favourites at the exhibition…

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

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

The Children of Calais Sculpture @ Saffron Walden, Essex ~ Must see!

Ah, at last!  It’s so wonderful to see a sculpture in the UK in a major public space, like outside a church, that is not some army general on a horse, and one that is really meaningful and relevant.  This is a very contemporary, thought-provoking and moving piece of public art by Ian Wolter, standing just next to St. Mary’s Church, Saffron Walden, Essex ~ my Saffron Walden friend, Jenny kindly took me to see this on Tuesday…

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From Ian Wolter’s website: ‘The Children of Calais is a life-sized sculpture of six children in poses echoing The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. The piece is designed to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children caught up in the ongoing refugee crisis.  Rodin’s original memorialises a moment during the Hundred Years’ War when Calais was under siege by England for over a year and King Edward offered to spare the people of the city on condition that six of its burghers would surrender themselves.  Ian Wolter’s sculpture evokes a parallel narrative: the sacrifice being demanded of child migrants for our ‘greater good’. Dressed in contemporary clothing, one of the figures holds a lifejacket in place of the city key held in Rodin’s original.’

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From ‘A New Perspective on the Children of Calais’ by Claire Mulley (wife of Ian Wolter), in celebration of 20 June 2018, Refugee Day…

‘The Children of Calais’ is an unusual piece of public art in a country that tends to memorialize heroes, royals and victories. Britain has a lot of men on horses, columns and pedestals, and quite a few Queen Victorias gazing across towns and parks. But things are slowly changing. April this year saw the first statue to a woman in Parliament Square, Millicent Fawcett. ‘The Children of Calais’, unveiled by Alf Dubs in June, is something different again. The six life-sized, bronze figures, three girls, three boys, that compose the piece are designed to provoke debate about the inhumanity of our response to the children – those most vulnerable to neglect and abuse – caught up in the ongoing refugee crisis.

Award-winning sculptor and conceptual artist Ian Wolter was inspired by Rodin’s famous ‘The Burghers of Calais’, an edition of which lives in the shadow of the Houses of Parliament. Rodin was commissioned by the City of Calais to commemorate the six burghers of their city who, in the fourteenth century, were prepared to sacrifice themselves to the English king, in order to save their citizens from starvation under siege. The six men are portrayed at the moment they walked out of Calais to their certain death, one carrying the key to the city in an act of silent surrender. Every figure subtly portrays desperation in a different way. Although they are standing close enough to touch one another, each is lost and alone in their misery. Yet as well as expressing sorrow and defeat, they also capture heroic self-sacrifice and human dignity.

‘My six figures are English children,’ Ian explains, ‘children I know, in contemporary clothes, but in poses echoing Rodin’s burghers, with the tallest child holding a life-jacket in place of the Calais city key. Refugee children are simply children at the end of the day, forced from their homes and at the mercy of strangers whose language they may not even speak. When children are portrayed in the way Rodin approached his sculpture, the loneliness and desperation is overlaid with their need for adult care and protection.’……

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The lives of the six Burghers of Calais, as represented by Rodin, were eventually spared in an act of mercy by the English king’s pregnant wife. ‘I liked that element of the fourteenth century story,’ Ian adds, ‘because in my work it suggests the possibility of a happy ending for child refugees. That in the end, humanity may hold sway.’’

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As Phil Simpson, one of my good CMS friends noted, the position of the sculpture in relation to the church also parallels Rodin’s sculpture of the burghers in relation to Parliament – a comment on institutions that have let them down perhaps?  Food for Thought – and if you’re anywhere near Saffron Walden in the near future, do go and check it out!

Sandal Parish, Wakefield ~ And what a great CMS Link Visit!

Setting the scene, ‘Welcome to Worship’ ~ with a beautiful photo of Yushan, Mt. Jade – Taiwan’s highest mountain…..

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And the sun was out at St. Helen’s Church, Sandal Magna, Wakefield, W. Yorks as I arrived on Saturday afternoon for my CMS Link Visit to the Parish of Sandal Magna – which also includes their daughter church of St. Paul’s, Walton ~ and it was quite some weekend!

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These lovely people have supported me and CMS (Church Mission Society) for many many years, since 1989 in fact, and every time I visit, they always roll out the red carpet!  What’s more, their vicar, Rev. Rupert Martin just loves art and the church is beautifully decorated with works of art ~ he also loves taking photos, so hey, worshiping there is just like in Taiwan – photos galore of smiling people!  Photos in fact of everybody except Rupert’s lovely wife, Sally (spot her in the distance in one photo only!) but she rarely stopped still long enough to have any photos taken ~ the vicarage cat, on the other hand, barely moved all weekend, and enjoyed the heat of the radiator ~ so, well there it is!

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My previous visit was on Advent Sunday 2014 (see that report here), when it was the 5th Sunday of November and we had a joint service at Walton on that occasion – while over at St. Helen’s, they had just opened the most beautiful Tree of Life Memorial Garden ~ and there are now many leaves added to the Tree of Life in memory of those who have died.  It is really stunning and so meaningful to have this memorial garden in the churchyard.

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First though, a visit to nearby Sandal Castle as the sun was just going down…

On Sunday, I did the sermon at both the 9:15 and 10:45 services at St. Helen’s….

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And I also gave Rupert one of Taiwan’s artillery shell crosses….

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And in-between the services there was coffee, and the second service was followed by their monthly baked potato lunch – so yummy!  I also visited Mavis in Walton, one of my dearest friends, she has been so faithful over the decades in her support – I gave her an artillery shell cross. She is the salt of the earth!

There’s about 200 people in total at St. Helen’s and St. Paul’s on any given Sunday, but about 2,000 who are reached through the week, via The Spring Shop and Cafe, the CAP (Christians Against Poverty) project, school assemblies and all the other outreach ministries.  Lots of exciting things going on!

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I loved staying at the vicarage all weekend, such a nice welcome ~ and on Sunday afternoon, we went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park where there were 2 interesting exhibitions, Guiseppe Penone, ‘A Tree in the Wood’

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and THE most beautiful exhibition in the chapel by a Japanese artist – from Osaka – Chiharu Shiota, ‘Beyond Time’ – I LOVE THIS!  Spot Sally and Rupert gazing upwards!

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So, thanks, and more thanks to all at St. Helen’s and Sandal Parish for such a warm welcome and for all their great support over the years, they are amazing!  Much appreciated.  Love them to bits!

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And thanks be to Almighty God for his many blessings, and such good friends and supporters around the country!

 

A Huge Big Welcome to Northern Ireland!

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Ah, Northern Ireland – such a very green and pleasant land, where it rains so much that all it has to do is stop raining and everyone is upbeat and happy. A grey, cloudy and overcast day might put the rest of the world off from venturing outside, but not in N. Ireland. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” they say all day long. And it always is! Y’know, you just can’t fail to be charmed by the people and their attitude to the weather – in fact to the whole of life. Everyone is, well, oh so polite, every car stops before you’ve even arrived at the zebra crossing to let you cross, they hold doors open or stand back to let you through first, they offer you their seat if you want to look out of the train window, they all say ‘good morning’ and they spend their days talking to their friends on the street or phoning each up for a chat. There is a quaintness about N. Ireland that is so charmingly old-fashioned that you just have to smile at how lovely they are.  And what a sense of humour they have too….

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Almost the first thing you hear on arrival in N. Ireland is how they haven’t got a government, but the last thing you see is any evidence of this fact. Everything works like it should. The trains and buses all run on time, and guess what, they even coordinate with each other. 😊 And N. Ireland people over 60 can travel on any bus or any train at any time to anywhere in N. Ireland completely free of charge, and at 65 they can do the same but all over the whole of Ireland too. This is really quite incredible. And all achieved without a government. Just imagine what the rest of the UK could do if they got rid of theirs!

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My good friends, John and Margaret are real N. Ireland people, and they kindly invited me to visit them in Coleraine for a few days. This was my 3rd visit to N. Ireland, the last one being in 2010-ish, also to visit John and Margaret, and on that trip they took me to Giant’s Causeway and other famous places. In 2005, I had taken some of my Taiwan friends to visit them when they were CMSI (Church Mission Society Ireland) mission partners in Kenya and we all had such a great time together.  Ah yes, Kenya features a lot in their house in Coleraine!

Before Kenya, John was vicar at Lisburn Cathedral for 17 years, so they were well-placed to answer my endless questions about N. Ireland – on culture, history, religion, faith and of course pronunciation and meaning of places like Cullybackey, Ballymoney, Ballybogey, Ballygalley and Knocknamuckley – and those are just the ones I can remember, there’s plenty more I don’t even know where to start.  As I traveled around, place names were many, but people were surprisingly few. So, if I saw a whole crowd, I just had to take a photo – just check this out, this is a rare sight in N. Ireland!

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Margaret took me to visit Coleraine Town. It’s a grey town and it was a grey day, so it all added to the atmosphere. But being almost the only tourist in sight that day, the Tourist Information lady was delighted to have someone to talk to about the history, and she was wonderful. Like a ray of sunshine breaking through the greyness. I learned all about ‘The Honourable The Irish Society’ who were a group of merchants in London who were sent to N. Ireland on the orders of James I to establish a settlement in the early 1600’s, they developed the town and also built the church, St. Patrick’s, although it was built on top of the foundations of an earlier church, dating back to the 14th century.

Needless to say, visiting Coleraine with Margaret was not the usual sightseeing tour. She knew most of the people we passed in the street, she took me into shops to meet her relatives who worked there, and of course when we got into the church, I was given a very warm welcome by more of her friends. Grey indeed outside, but inside, all was sunshine and warmth!

Later we drove out around the coast to Portstewart, Portrush and Dunluce Castle. “Hey, it’s not raining, isn’t it great?” said John all afternoon, smiling away. And it was!

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We spent a day in Derry / Londonderry – going by train around the coast. It didn’t rain then, either, and yes, it was great!

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My first visit to the famous city of Derry. Highly recommended. I’ve heard Derry described as ‘raw and beautiful’ and that kind of sums it all up. Very beautiful, with the most intact city walls of any city I’ve ever seen. A real walled city, full of history.

And in the walled city is the Church of Ireland (Anglican) St. Columb’s Cathedral, built between 1628-1633, the first post-Reformation Anglican church built in the British Isles and the first non-RC cathedral to be built in Western Europe…

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There’s a stained glass window in the church commemorating the life of Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), who was wife of Archbishop William Alexander of Derry. She wrote many famous hymns there, including ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ and ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away, outside the city walls’, the latter thought to have been inspired by the hills of the Derry, which are indeed outside the city walls…

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But Derry was severely affected by ‘The Troubles’. The conflict is widely considered to have begun in the city, with many regarding the Battle of the Bogside in 1969 as the beginning. Bogside is a majority Catholic / Irish republican area, and shares a border with the Protestant / Ulster loyalist enclave of the Fountain. From the city walls we could see both.

The ‘Bloody Sunday’ incident of 1972, when 14 protesters were killed by the British army, also occurred in the Bogside area of Derry, commemorated in this mural.

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The Bogside Murals are famous, virtually all political rather than great works of art, and I spent ages taking photos of them all; they also mark the spots where many of the killings took place. This is the ‘raw’ side of Derry, raw, bleak and poignant. Many of the posters comment on the current political impasse and urge the leaders to get moving on settling the disputes….

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These days, tourists like me come to take photos of the wall murals, slogans and flags, described in this article here as ‘showrooms of ethnic antagonism’.  Sadly, centuries of mistrust and bitterness are ingrained in the hearts of the people on both sides. Despite the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, society is still deeply divided. Geographically divided by public housing policies and educational practices, there are few opportunities for people to have meaningful contact with the other side. The 2 communities are close-knit, parochial, almost tribal ~ effectively living separate but parallel lives.

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Certainly the churches are very divided. Church buildings are everywhere in N. Ireland, apparently there are 26 in Coleraine alone, many the result of breaking away from one of the others. Current issues in society – of abortion and same-sex marriage – have actually brought the churches closer together. But as John says, when it comes to N. Ireland Christianity, the Protestant Churches have placed way too much focus on the ‘way in’ and not nearly enough on the ‘way on’. The Christian faith has to be lived out day by day and while the churches argue and divide over doctrine, Brexit is on the horizon, secularism is on the rise and the church risks being side-lined, as is happening in England. N. Ireland has a long way to go. Prayer is needed!

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On Thursday, we went to Belfast. I like the red-bricked buildings of Queen’s University…

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we also visited the botanic gardens…

and the Ulster Museum…

Then we walked down to the city centre along Sandy Row, traditionally a staunchly loyalist, predominantly Protestant, working-class area of Belfast. The huge wall mural at the entrance to the street commemorates King William III of England who travelled along Sandy Row with his troops on his way south to fight at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, a defining moment in Irish history that ultimately ensured Protestant ascendancy in Ireland, and is commemorated on July 12 each year by the Orange Order with huge parades and bonfires. Pictures and flags of the queen, union jacks and slogans of support for Britain are everywhere. It is all really quite surreal. One thing is certain, 4 days in N. Ireland isn’t anywhere near enough to even scrape the surface in understanding the complex situation that is Northern Ireland today.

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And on into Belfast City Centre – to the city hall and around about.  Not enough time to go everywhere ~ still we saw a little of this great city!

The sign said, ‘Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what is for lunch’ 😊 And so we went off to meet my old friend, Ali and her husband, Chris – for lunch. Once upon a time, Ali and I taught together in Mwanza, Tanzania; now she lives in Newtonards, where Chris is the vicar. Her accent sounds really Irish to me, but all the locals say she sounds very English. Actually she’s from Suffolk!

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A very very huge thank you to John and Margaret for their wonderful welcome and amazing hospitality, and to Ali and Chris and all the lovely people of N. Ireland too for their warm welcome. Sorry not to be able to visit everybody I would have liked to – ah, next time, next time!  And next time for shopping too….

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And on Thursday afternoon, on our way back to Coleraine, finally, it rained. Ah, rain at last! I’d been in N. Ireland for 4 days, and saw no actual rain until my final day. All 5 minutes of it, enough for cars to use their windscreen wipers. John was delighted, “so finally you can see some real Irish rain!” YES!  A trip to N. Ireland is not complete without some wet stuff to make you feel welcome. So they say, anyway. 😊😊

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Goodbye N. Ireland – until next time.  And so to Belfast Airport this morning for my short flight back to Manchester.

Ah it was fun trip ~ I just LOVE Northern Ireland!

London’s Street Art @ Shoreditch: Must Go!

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The best place in London to see street art in abundance is the Shoreditch area, and wherever you go, there’s tons of murals, paintings and graffiti of every kind ~ some of it very famous, like the 2 original ones above by Banksy.  Just walk around and there’s so much to see, you end up walking miles and miles.  New stuff is coming up all the time.  So check it out, often.  I love it!  This was my street art walk last Friday in the area….

I love the way these 2 almost interact….

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And some more, including the community garden on Brick Lane….