Tag Archives: Chiayi

South to North up Taiwan’s West Coast with our 18 Friends from Latin America & the Caribbean!

Smiles all round in honour of Taiwan’s Double-Tenth National Day last Thursday, October 10 ~ and the start of a 4-day weekend for us all! And what a good opportunity it was to show our 18 international friends some of the great cultural sights of Taiwan. 😊 The group are now on the final stretch of their 3-month “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 ‘Taiwan ICDF‘, and hosted by St. John’s University (SJU), Taipei. In a few weeks time, they’ll all return to their home countries of Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and we’ll miss them! Here they are celebrating Taiwan’s National Day …

Last week, the group were in south Taiwan for a 3-day Solar Energy Course at the National Kaohsiung University of Science and Technology, where Dr. Herchang Ay, SJU President, is in charge of the Apollo Solar Car Team. The group traveled there on Monday morning by High-Speed Rail (see photo below), and the plan was that we would join them on Thursday morning to make the most of the 4-day weekend, traveling back to Taipei by coach, via all sorts of interesting places en route along the west coast.

Thus it was that we spent Thursday in Kaohsiung, Thursday night and Friday in Tainan, Friday night and Saturday morning in Chiayi, and from Saturday afternoon to Sunday lunchtime in Taichung, returning to St. John’s University along the west coast road on Sunday evening – trying to avoid the traffic on the final day of the long weekend. We saw a huge lot of really great places, so many in fact that there was hardly any time to rest on the coach in-between stops! Here’s the group posing at the first stop of the day…

There were 4 of us from SJU, A-Tu, me, Xiang-Yann from Malaysia and Jun-Hong. We also had a very good tour guide, Thomas, and a very patient driver, Mr. Chien. A-Tu and I went to Kaohsiung on Wednesday afternoon, stayed the night at St. Paul’s Church (thanks to Rev. C. C. Cheng and his wife!) and met up with our lovely group on Thursday morning at Weiwuying – my most favourite place in all of Kaohsiung – I just love all that wall art! It was good to hear our group’s reflections on their few days in south Taiwan – all positive, and they enthused about how friendly all the people were down south. It’s a fact – the further south you go in Taiwan the friendlier the people – and this was the experience of our group too. As we traveled around these past few days, many people would come over to meet us, some to enquire about the guys’ long hair or where they’re all from or to take a photo together, ah it was fun! Anyway, after the wall murals, we walked across the road to visit the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, which is a stunning building, but it was very hot and muggy, and the sky was hazy. It is ‘air-pollution season’ in Taiwan, and while the weather forecast may have shown days of yellow sunshine, in reality, it was mostly hazy and dull. And very very hot! 🥵🥵

Then we visited the Glory Pier and the Pier 2 area, plus Xiziwan. More hot, hot, hot! In fact, we had to cut short our afternoon sightseeing to save us all from getting heatstroke, and off we went to spend an hour enjoying the air-conditioned Dream Mall instead! As it was Taiwan’s National Day, so there were flags everywhere …

Day One over, and in the evening, we drove an hour north to Tainan, where we stayed overnight in the Sendale Tainan Science Park Hotel, in Sinshih (Xinshi), Tainan. The best thing about Sinshih is that when we got up early for exercise the next morning, we discovered the very delightful nearby Sinshih Elementary School, where everyone was busy doing exercise, the school open-air pool was full of people swimming, and best of all, the school walls were covered in mosaics and murals, all done by the children to show the history of the town – including the arrival of the early missionaries. I loved it!

Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan, and the first capital city, so the first must-visit place was the National Museum of Taiwan History. This museum was a big surprise to me – not only had I never been there before, actually I had never even heard of it either! It was opened in 2011, and is located in what seems to be the middle of absolutely nowhere, somewhere on the coast ~ but the museum is a beautiful building and the displays are excellent. Thomas took this photo of us at the main entrance…

Y’know, it’s not easy for a government to construct a good museum telling its own history from an objective viewpoint – and as far as it goes, they’ve done a good job, and especially in presenting the history of Taiwanese customs and also the big section about the Japanese colonial era. There’s lots of interesting displays and everything is in English and Chinese. One day hopefully the museum will also extend the displays to include more about the indigenous people, Christian missionaries and churches, and what really happened during the White Terror era. Anyway it’s a highly recommended museum, and our group spent a long time looking at all the exhibits – and taking part, as appropriate!

Next stop, and we were off to Tainan City to see the Blueprint Cultural and Creative Park ~ this is an old ‘dormitory village’ of houses originally built to provide accommodation for government workers and their families in days gone by, but now reinvented for visitors to come and see, and of course, to come and shop…

We also visited Snail Alley ~ I liked the old buildings – and, well, also the snails!

The best place of the whole afternoon was the Hayashi Department Store, which I loved, it has a really fascinating history, dating from the Japanese colonial era, and it was new to me. Their website says, “On December 5th, 1932, Hayashi Department Store opened and thus a modern age of Taiwanese culture began. The decade of 1930s was the start point of modern civilization in Taiwan. As the electric lamps, telephone, and water supply lines popularized, symbols of civilization such like the airplane and motor vehicles flooded into Taiwan. The cafés were becoming the fad of the day, as well as pop culture, movies, phonographs and jazz music. People´s mentality was opening up, and freewill dating was taking over arranged marriages, while dresses were replacing kimonos and Westernized education was popularizing. This was Taiwan in the 1930s”. On the top floor, there’s a very unusual Shinto shrine, there are also great views down to the road below, plus glass-covered walls that show where the building was damaged by air-raids during World War II. After the war, the building became mostly offices, but these days, it’s transformed once again into a shopping experience, though it has retained its original charm and elegance. I really liked it!

We didn’t visit the Confucius Temple, which is usually No. 1 on a historic tour of Tainan, but we did go to Anping Fort (aka Fort Zeelandia), built between 1624 to 1634 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). After wandering around the fort, we stopped at the Old Street and also watched a folk tale performance in front of the temple. Our group had a go at the games, and Jun-Hong got himself a temporary tattoo of a tiger!

So that was Day Two, and after dinner, we set off for the hour-or-so drive north to Chiayi, where we stayed in the very stylish Kuan Hotel, on the outskirts of the city…

Day Three was Saturday, and we were all up bright and early for the world’s biggest breakfast in the hotel restaurant. All of our lunches and evening meals were in Chinese restaurants so this was a chance to have something a bit different – plus lots of coffee ready for the day ahead! Our first destination of the day was the very famous Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum; this was my second visit. My first visit was when Chiayi hosted the Lantern Festival in 2018 – with lots of people and a really festive atmosphere. This time it was far more relaxed and a chance to enjoy the lake and the architecture, there was also a special exhibit on Thailand – and large elephant inflatables in the main entrance! I really like this place, it’s spacious, well-designed and full of interesting things – but not too many – just the right size for a visit!

The most famous object in the museum is the stewed pork / meat-shaped stone: “The 5.73 cm tall Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) piece is made from banded jasper in the shape of braised pork belly”….

So that was Chiayi – and after lunch we drove north for 90 minutes to Taichung, our fourth destination of the trip. We visited Miyahara, “a red-brick architecture built by Miyahara Takeo, a Japanese ophthalmology doctor in 1927. It was the largest ophthalmology clinic in Taichung during the Japanese colonial period. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, Miyahara became the Taichung Health Bureau”. After years of decay, it has now been reinvented as a restaurant and ice-cream shop, and designed like Hogwarts in Harry Potter. We also visited the Shenji New Village, but there were so many people, we didn’t stay long. Instead we decided to check into the hotel, then head to dinner and a quick visit to the Fengjia Night Market, most famous of all Taichung’s night markets – check out all those zillions of people!

Day Four arrived and there we were in the WeMeet Hotel in central Taichung. I lived in Taichung when I first arrived in Taiwan, from 1999-2006 and I kinda know my way around, so we were up very early to go and visit the nearby Taichung Park. The park is famous for the pavilion built in 1908 for the visit of the Japanese Emperor’s son to launch the railway – it’s the iconic symbol of Taichung, and looks good lit up in the darkness.

A-Tu and I wandered on and found Taichung’s oldest church, Liu-Yuan Presbyterian Church 柳原長老教會, built in 1915, which has a notice saying it is the only church in the world with dragon-shaped waterspouts… well, you learn something new every day!

And then we walked to the nearby site of the famous Yi-Zhong Night Market, which in the very early morning was distinctly less lively than it would have been some hours earlier. This is where I used to come for my language classes, and every day I would pass a church on the corner opposite the night market – an old wooden building, surrounded by a parking area. That church was originally a Japanese Anglican (NSKK) Church, but when the Japanese left Taiwan in 1945, there being no Taiwan Anglican / Episcopal Church at that time, so it was handed over to another church group. The building was still there until about 15 years ago, when it was demolished and a large retail building put up, with the church relocated to the top floor. You can see it in this photo. The lower floors are obviously let to Adidas – aka the Adidas Church?

My favourite place in Taichung is the Rainbow Military Dependents Village, famously saved from demolition by 97-year-old Mr. Huang, who started to paint the walls in beautiful designs, and over some years succeeded in saving his village. It is now a major tourist attraction, which is why we were there, but Mr. Huang is still the main focus, and he was posing for photos and enjoying the well-deserved attention. The government has stepped in and restored some of the buildings, and it is looking even better than before, while still very much retaining its original character. There are huge construction projects going on nearby, so soon the village will be a little oasis in the middle of a high-rise community…

After Rainbow Village, we went to the new National Taichung Theater, designed by Japanese architect, Ito Toyo, with lots of curved walls, under-floor air-conditioning and all sorts of sound caves and air-holes. We had an excellent volunteer guide who was really passionate about showing us around and explaining the design; he also took us inside the actual grand theater. His enthusiasm was so wonderful, infectious even – a very highly recommended tour!

So that was Taichung. We had one more place to visit, and that was on the way home, when we took the coastal road north to escape the worst of the traffic and visited the Miaoli Wind Farm, which was just visible far off in the sea – Taiwan’s first offshore wind farm, and on track to begin commercial operations by the end of this year…

And so we arrived back at St. John’s University on Sunday evening soon after 7:00 pm, grateful that everything had gone smoothly, thankful for our guide and driver, for good food and drink, and for all the amazing places we’d visited. This was a tour focused on Taiwan’s cities and urban areas rather than scenic landscapes, but as one of the group said, “We have plenty of beautiful scenery back home, but we don’t have high-rise cities – so that’s what we want to see!” And we certainly did see many, also a lot of baroque architecture which was the architectural style chosen by the Japanese to build Taiwan’s cities during the colonial era, 1895-1945. Now it’s just nice to back in the big open space by the sea that is St. John’s University, with the mountains in the background, and where the air is relatively less-polluted and the temps are definitely cooler. Ah yes, being away on a bus for 4 days really helps you to appreciate being home!

Thanks to SJU for all the planning and organizing of the whole trip, thanks to everyone in the group for being so lovely, and thanks be to God that everything went so well! YES!

Alishan 阿里山 Sunrise and Cherry Blossom ~ Happy Easter 2018!

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Alishan, ah Alishan!  Famous for its sunrises, tea, cherry blossom, ‘sacred’ trees, sea of clouds and its mountain railway.   The place everyone goes once in their lifetime.  Visitors from all over the world, and especially from the Chinese-speaking world are there in their thousands.  Me too ~ and I was there on Saturday, Easter Eve ~ as dawn was breaking….

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Taiwan’s most famous sunrise location is there at Alishan ~ just look at all these people waiting to see the sun come up!

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That ridge over there in the distance is Yushan, Jade Mountain, 玉山 at 3,952 m, 12,966 ft ~ Taiwan’s No. 1 highest mountain. To the left of the Main Peak is the North Peak, with Taiwan’s highest permanently-manned weather station. We were up on the top of Yushan Main Peak and North Peak last July, and it was one amazing experience!

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When the sun does come up, there’s a big cheer – at this exact moment!

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2 minutes later, and it looks like this…

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After the sun comes up, there’s the sea of clouds below….

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And then, everyone spends the rest of the day enjoying the cherry blossom…

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But say the name ‘Alishan’ to older people in Taiwan and they burst into song.  This is the famous song, ‘Alishan Girl 阿里山的姑娘‘ sung by Teresa Teng 鄧麗君 in 1971.  Check it out, it’s very famous!

Alishan is high up in the mountains of Chiayi County, in Taiwan’s central mountain range.  The Chushan Train Station, near the sunrise viewing platform, is 2,451 m above sea level, the highest point of the Taiwan Railway System.  The hotels and cherry blossom area are all above 2,000 m, so it’s a especially pleasant place to visit in summer – when temperatures down in Chiayi are 30-35°C.  On Saturday very early morning it was 5°C, while lowland Taiwan was 20°….

So what of the history of Alishan?  Briefly it runs as follows:

“The Alishan area was originally settled by the Tsou tribe of the Taiwanese aborigines; the name derives from the aboriginal word Jarissang…. Following the cession of Taiwan to Japan at the end of the First Sino-Japanese War in 1895, Japanese expeditions to the area found large quantities of cypress (檜木, or hinoki in Japanese). This led to the development of the logging industry in the area and the export of local cypress and Taiwania wood. A series of narrow-gauge railways were built in the area during this time to facilitate the transportation of lumber from the mountains to the plains below, part of which continues to operate as the Alishan Forest Railway.”

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So how to go?  This was my third trip from Taipei to Alishan by direct bus, and after my last 2 reports, in 2016 and 2017, I’ve had lots of interest from visitors who want to know all the details. Of course, from Chiayi there’s plenty of buses to Alishan, but this bus is special.  For those of us in Taipei with not much time, and not wanting to spend much money, this is the way to do it.  So this is an update on those details – all you need to know!

THE bus, ‘King Bus’ 國光客運 (known as ‘Guo-Guang-Hao’) goes only twice a week, and leaves from Taipei Bus Station, next to the Taipei Main Train Station in central Taipei.  Departure time from Taipei is 20:45 pm on Friday and Saturday nights, the return trip leaves Alishan on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 11:30 am, and gets back to Taipei about 5:00 pm.  Cost for the return tickets is now NT$ 645 each way, and tickets can be booked 2 weeks in advance in person at the ticket office. No online bookings.  Yes, you can book one way only, but it may be a bit more expensive for a single ticket.  You write down your name and tel. no. when you book, just in case they need to cancel the bus (like in snow, landslides or typhoons).  Ideally of course, I would love to go to Alishan on a Friday night, spend Saturday night there, and come back to Taipei on the Sunday afternoon. But so far that hasn’t happened. I have never yet spent a night in Alishan.  Nor seen the Alishan sunsets.  But hey, I’ve seen so much else!

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In the cherry blossom season in spring, tickets get sold out very quickly.  In fact, the only reason why I could go this Easter weekend was because Saturday was actually a work and school day in Taiwan, except at St. John’s University, which took the day off to make up for graduation day in June. For everyone else, Saturday’s work and school day was making up for a day off later this week as part of the annual Tomb-Sweeping Festival.  So there were far far fewer people than would normally be expected on a spring Saturday.

The 2018 Cherry Blossom Festival runs from March 15 to April 10, and after that, most of the cherry blossom will be over.  But, y’know, it would be great to go there in other seasons too, and much quieter!

The bus journey takes about 5 hours from Taipei to Alishan, but on the outward trip, it’s extended to 6 hours, with a 45-minute rest at the small town of Chukou, the gateway to Alishan – and famous for its 2 suspension bridges.  We got to Chukou at 12:15 am, then rested until 1:00 am.  There’s a 24-hour convenience store, Family Mart, that’s open, and the bridge to walk across, but, well, it’s the middle of the night – and very quiet!

After leaving Chukou, the road starts to climb steeply upwards, round and round, up and up, on and on for the next 90 minutes or more.  If you get travel sick, don’t eat anything at Chukou Family Mart!  We arrived at the Alishan Main Entrance / Bus Station at about 2:45 am.  Last year, the bus would drive into the Alishan area and drop everyone off.  But now buses stay outside, and the new bus station area is there with its own 7-Eleven convenience store, which was open.  YES!  We all love a good 7-Eleven, especially one like this which has a large waiting area with benches to sit on.  It’s cold out there, so bring warm clothes.  Gloves, hat, scarf and coat.  And make the most of the hot chocolate at the 7-Eleven.  It’s hot and sweet and I love it.  And the coffee too – cos there’s not much sleep to be had on that bus once it leaves Chukou and starts heading up the mountain!  And there’s not much to do at Alishan at that time in the morning, until the ticket office opens to buy the train ticket to see the sunrise.  So make the most of the 7-Eleven!

If you don’t want to go on the train and prefer to go by minibus to see the sunrise from a different viewpoint, then there’s minibuses at the bus station offering this service, recommended by (but independently of) the bus company. I did it once and it was good, costs about the same, but hey, I like the train.  It kinda adds to the whole Alishan experience!

First you have to get your Alishan Entrance Ticket at the Alishan Main Gate.  With a bus ticket stub, it’s NT$ 150 (otherwise it’s NT$ 300).

We headed to the train station to wait there.  It’s warm (er) and hey, get in line, cos once all the people turn up, there’ll be hundreds lining up to get a ticket.  As the time of the sunrise varies through the year, so the time of the sunrise trains also vary, and the ticket office opens 30 minutes before the first train leaves.  The number of trains running depends on the season and the number of visitors too.  On Saturday, the sunrise was at 6:06 am, the first train left at 4:50 am and so the ticket office opened at 4:20 am.  At that point, the notice went up to say that there were 509 tickets available that morning….

Train tickets are NT$ 150 each way.  The train takes about 30 minutes and it is packed out with people.  So is Chushan, where the viewing of the sunrise happens.

Fortunately, there’s plenty to see and do, including a line of stalls selling bowls of hot soup, breakfast, coffee and tea – and well worth it.  After all, it’s not the warmest place in the world at 5:30 am!  It’s a very sociable place, and we’re all trying to get a good place to see the sunrise…

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Stand to the right of the viewing area near the solitary tree – yep, that tree may be the most photographed tree in the world!

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By 6:00 am, everyone was in place with cameras raised.  At 6:06 – exactly on time, the first glimpse of the sun appeared and a loud cheer went up from all the hundreds of people gathered there.  Kinda moving to hear!

For the next 10 minutes we all clicked and clicked away.  And within 10 minutes, the sun was up and it was too bright to stand there any longer, so we turned our attention to the cherry tree – which was very old and very big and completely covered in blossom.  The beauty of Alishan Cherry Trees, unlike those down here at lower elevations, is that the cherry trees there are so old.  And so big.  All so twisted and gnarled and full of character.  And covered in lichens – it’s all that fresh clean air.  And they were all looking splendid in the early morning sun.  Most of the Alishan cherry blossom in flower at the moment seems to be white.  Most of the pink ones, but not all, have finished flowering.  The white ones are beautiful ~ and of course, most appropriate for Easter weekend!

On previous visits, I have taken the train back to the main Alishan station, but this time I walked back.  If you have enough energy, then make the most of it and walk back.  It’s well worth it.  And it’ll save you NT$ 150.  But first I visited Mt Ogasawara / Xiaoliyuan 小笠原山(2488m above sea level), 500m away up a very steep hill – the views are incredible, really amazing.  If you go back by train, you will not really be able to get up there and back in time.

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There’s also a small exhibition area half way there with an interesting display of art taking the outline of Taiwan….

The path from the sunrise area back to Alishan is downhill all the way, and there’s a footpath down through the trees.  Usually takes 40 minutes, but I wandered off on some other paths, and took much longer.  It’s such a great area for wandering!

And once you’re down there back at the main Alishan area, well there’s loads of places to visit.  I wandered all over the place.  Trails lead everywhere.  So much to see.  The sacred trees area is the furthest away, and with lots of steep steps up and down.  But you don’t need to go far to see all the colours of Alishan.

It’s the first time I’ve visited Alishan’s most famous hotel, the Alishan House Hotel 阿里山賓館 when the cherry blossom at the main entrance was out.  Those trees are so old and falling down that they are held up and supported by metal poles.

Cherry blossom galore…

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Magnolias….

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and calla lilies…

Plus plenty more, check out this tree stump that looks like a pigs’ head…

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And there’s also Taiwan’s most beautiful (and highest) post office….

I had a spare hour at the end, and had done hours and hours of walking (after hardly any sleep!) and the weather was turning cloudy, so I bought coffee and sandwich and went off to visit the Sacred Tree Station by train – and returned 45 minutes later.  One-way ticket is NT$ 100.  Had my coffee break on the platform surrounded by huge trees.  In previous years I had walked there, but this year there was no time, so I went by the train.  It’s fun!

By the time I got back to Alishan Main Station, the sun had completely disappeared and the mist and fog had arrived.  Wow!  I passed the RC Church and hostel down below the main road – it’s apparently the best place to stay for those on a budget, but booking is not easy, mostly done by telephone.

And so back to the bus station in time to catch the 11:30 am bus back to Taipei.  We stopped once on the return journey, for 10 minutes at the Chiayi Bus Station. Most of us were so exhausted from having virtually no sleep the night before and having walked around all day, that we slept most of the way home.  Got back to Taipei Main Station at about 5:00 pm.  The driver was the same for the outward and return journeys – really excellent!

Alishan is well worth visiting, it really is special.  It’s true that the crowds might get to you at the peak times, but don’t let that put you off.  It’s beautiful!

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I just love Alishan!

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So Happy Easter 2018 @ Alishan ~ ah, what wonderful memories!

Happy Year of the Dog ~ Taiwan’s Lantern Festival 2018 @ Chiayi!

A major extravaganza is on down in Taiwan’s south central city of Chiayi.  If you get a chance, GO!   Every year, a different city or county is chosen to host Taiwan’s main lantern festival, and every year, thousands and thousands flock there from all over the country to attend.  Including me.  I love to go!  This year it is the turn of Chiayi.  And what an extravaganza it is!

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Last year, the Year of the Rooster, the main lantern festival was held in Yunlin.  The year before, the Year of the Monkey, it was held in Taoyuan.  Both of those were held near to their respective High-Speed Rail Stations (HSR), partly so lots of people can then get there easily, plus the HSR Stations are built so far out of town that there’s huge amounts of unused land nearby and it’s ideal for a major event like a lantern festival.

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This year, Chiayi has also made the most of its High-Speed Rail Station, and shuttle buses run to and fro every evening transporting people to the lantern festival site at Taibao, not far away.  But this year what is special is that the lantern festival site includes the National Palace Museum Southern Branch, which was only opened in 2004.  It is truly amazing!

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We went on Saturday afternoon, the second day of the event, and stayed on until the night.  We walked through the lantern festival area in T-shirts, it was so hot, under blue skies.

But blue skies are hardly any good for a lantern festival – which needs darkness!  Anyway, we passed through the lantern area, and ended up at the National Palace Museum Southern Branch.  Along with thousands and thousands of people.  And guess what?  The museum was open, and from 3:00-9:00 pm, entry was free as long as you ‘like’ the museum’s facebook page, then that ‘like’ could be exchanged for a free ticket.  What a treat!  This was my very first visit, and I was not expecting to get free entry into the museum.  Inside it’s beautiful!  It’s not too big, so you can get round it quite easily.  Wow!

Then the sunset behind the museum….

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And a light show!

We moved down to the museum main entrance where there was an incredible performance going on, already started so we missed the first part.  Never seen anything quite like it.  In the dark too.  A crane had suspended in mid-air what looked from a distance like a sort of chandelier.  It turned out that each of the so-called ‘lights’ of the chandelier contained a person, and they threw out all sorts of streamers, balloons, confetti, smoke, as they moved around to the music ~ and then from the central ‘light’ out came a small ladder and a woman, dressed in red, appeared – who danced and acrobat-ed herself in mid-air.  The whole performance was done as the crane moved them all up and down and round and round.  Quite terrifying to watch.  And down below were a man and woman dressed like in the Victorian-age, all in white, and they were singing like opera-style music. Really powerful stuff.

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Turns out that they are Theater Tol, based in Antwerp, Belgium, performing ‘Garden of Angels‘:

“Lightness and joy are the most important themes of this show. Garden of Angels is about a wedding, in which the beloved couple eats each other, dances, flies. They are in love and surrounded by good company: musicians and creatures out of fairy tales.

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The performance is inspired by history, where the bouquet of flowers originally consisted of a bunch of strong spices, to expel the evil ghosts and bad influences out of marriage. The big present for the newly-married couple in this performance are the angels: the protectors, the dreamers, the wise ones. The audience is the guest at the wedding. In that way the angels don’t only bring the good things for the beloved couple, they move the guests and let them be touched by their positive energy as well.

Theater Tol brings this spectacle of fire, heat and sensuality. The world of animals, fantasy and people merge. A fantasy world of lovers, dancing animals and angels descends from heaven.”

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Quite amazing.  We were seriously impressed!

And then to the main dog lantern which revolved around once every 30 minutes, and took 3 minutes to do so, accompanied by lights and noise and zillions of spectators….

After that, well, we had enough time to find the churches lantern area, and as always the RC Church could be relied on to produce interesting lanterns, this year we had the pope, Jesus, Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus, Mother Teresa and St. Valentine….

There was not much time left for us to see many of the smaller lanterns.  But we saw enough.  Lanterns everywhere, all shapes and sizes.  Actually the theme, as well as being the Year of the Dog, was all about Chiayi being on the Tropic of Cancer, so the latitude number 23.5º was much in evidence, and other countries that are also on the Tropic of Cancer were also part of the show.  Then we also had all the different areas of Chiayi represented in lanterns, including the High-Heeled Shoe Church that we had visited at Chinese New Year….

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And Alishan, famous for its cherry blossoms. Plus there were international sections, religious sections, different people groups, lanterns made by schools of different ages, and industries and companies based in Chiayi.  Something for everyone.

As always, the local government did an amazing job with the logistics and everything worked like clockwork.  There was a constant stream of shuttle buses and even though we joined a line that must have been several hundred people long, we only had to wait about 10-15 minutes to get to the top of the queue.  Incredible!

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So congratulations to Chiayi on an incredible lantern festival!

And a big welcome everyone to the Year of the Dog, woof woof!

Chinese New Year 2018!

Ah yes, and as with every Chinese New Year, food featured highly!  Food, food and more delicious food.  YUMMY!  For most people, the New Year celebrations revolve around family reunions, gatherings with old friends, temple visits to pray for blessings for the new year, preparing food offerings and worship at the family ancestor shrine, and of course the enjoyment of meals and delicacies of every kind.  Many people also take the chance to travel, but just as many people say they can’t face the traffic jams and prefer to stay home.  Meanwhile those in the tourism and transport business work from morning to night, making the most of the opportunities ~ or just busy, busy, busy, after all it’s high season.  And red is the colour to be seen everywhere, whether in decorations in homes, hotels and businesses, or in the new clothes that everyone wears, or in the red envelopes that are given or received in every home.  Ah, red, a great colour!  In Chinese tradition it symbolizes blessing, good fortune, happiness.  Yes, I love red!

Of course, we were all too well aware of the tragedy of the recent earthquake disaster in Hualien, and of those who were killed, injured, bereaved, made homeless or with damaged homes and businesses.  Hualien is a major tourist destination for Taiwan people at Chinese New Year, and even though local government leaders and those involved in the tourism industry wanted people to continue with their travel plans where possible, in fact many cancelled.  This had a knock-on effect for the whole of the east coast, and Taitung too was relatively free of people, and therefore also cars, which meant less traffic jams.

The most important meal of Chinese New Year is that of Chinese New Year’s Eve, when the whole family gathers together, and sons and their families return to the family home.  I’d been at St. James’ Church, Taichung all the past week, and my good friends there, the very lovely and welcoming Wang family kindly invited me to their home for the New Year’s Eve meal, where mother, father and 2 daughters were busy preparing all kinds of goodies ~ home-made everything!  All very very delicious and very beautifully served.  Thank you!

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On Chinese New Year’s Day, last Friday, we set off from Taichung heading south.  ‘We’ is my good friend, Ah-Guan and her daughter, Yaling.  Ah-Guan had kindly organized everything, she is really great fun for traveling with!  We were heading for Tainan.  First stop was Chiayi County, Budai Township 布袋 to see the High-Heeled Wedding Church. This is quite some landmark.  ‘Church’ it is not.  Or maybe it is.  Cross, there isn’t.  And no services planned.  It is actually a photo-shoot location for couples taking their wedding photos, as is the tradition in Taiwan, a few weeks before their actual wedding.  Built to make your wedding photos look like you’re in a kind of dreamworld, Cinderella-style.  Actually I like it.  Not all the cute photo-op things around, but the actual glass monument itself.  It’s very bright blue and very shiny, made of glass.  Hey, every town needs something to draw people in, and well, Budai has a bright blue high-heeled church!

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But the story behind it is one of tragedy.  This coastal area of SW Taiwan lacks freshwater, and in the 1950’s, people dug deep wells to get drinking water, which unfortunately proved high in heavy metals, especially arsenic. Long-term consumption of arsenic causes poor circulation and eventually can cause the feet to turn purplish-black (from gangrene), thus known as ‘Blackfoot Disease’.  The only solution was amputation.  This caused a huge amount of suffering at its peak in the 1960’s. One local girl had to have her feet amputated just before her wedding, so the wedding was cancelled and she spent the rest of her life being taken care of by the church.  Blackfoot Disease therefore denied her the chance of following the traditional Taiwanese custom of stepping over the fire-pan on her wedding day, symbolizing leaving her old life and starting a new one.  As the bride would be beautifully dressed, she would also be wearing high-heeled shoes on her wedding day…..

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The church mentioned in this story is the Presbyterian Church in Beimen District 北門 (don’t confuse this Beimen with the Beimen in Taipei City), the next area to Budai, though actually in Tainan County.  We visited Beimen next.  The most famous local resident was Dr. Wang King-ho 王金河 (1916-2014), who dedicated much of his life to treating patients with Blackfoot Disease at his clinic there, now a museum.

“An outbreak of Blackfoot Disease began in Beimen in 1956, and Wang partnered with medical professionals at National Taiwan University to research the disease. Missionary Lillian Dickson moved to Beimen in 1960 and opened the Mercy’s Door Free Clinic, which was funded by her organization Mustard Seed International, with Wang as head physician.  Hsieh Wei, a doctor based in Puli, Nantou, would make weekly round trips to perform amputations on patients at Mercy’s Door.  After Mercy’s Door closed, Wang returned to his own clinic before retiring in 1996.”

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The museum is well worth visiting, but I will spare you any photos of the preserved amputated feet that are on display.  Gross is the word.  Sorry, but it’s horrible.  Not for the squeamish, like me.  Slightly more bearable are the old medical instruments that were used, but the tools like the saw, and the operating table and the old photos make it all very gruesomely horrific.

Beimen also has a new ‘church’ to add to its tourist attractions, this one a Crystal Church 水晶教堂.  We went there too.  And the old Beimen salt washing workshops, now converted into a visitor center.  And we loved the ‘Money Coming’ 錢來也 Grocery Shop (Qianlaiye), built in 1952 originally as the cafeteria for the salt workers ~ what a great name for a shop!

And then we went to Jingzaijiao Tile-paved Salt Fields 井仔腳瓦盤鹽田, the oldest salt-field in Taiwan, started in 1818.  This is quite an amazing scene!

The nearby houses are quite beautiful…

And so to Tainan 台南, where we stayed at Grace Church, with our good friends, Rev. Philip Ho and his wife, Nancy and daughter Kathy.  They were so so so good to us!  Yes, great home-cooked meals and kindness galore.  They also had planned our itinerary so well, Philip driving and Nancy really ace on where to go and how to get there.  And they love posing for crazy photos… we took many like this!

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And this….!

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The next day, we were up bright and early for a tour around the area, including the bird reserve famous for the black-faced spoonbills. Actually we didn’t see any of those, but we saw plenty of others of the species listed, including Avocets, Caspian Terns, Curlews, Sacred Ibis, Redshank and all kinds of herons and egrets. We also met some of the wardens who help to staff the reserve and they were so keen to let us look through their telescopes and tell us the birds we were looking at.   Philip used to be a biology teacher, so he knows all the plants, animals and birds too.  A great field-guide!  Actually, there’s less than 3,000 black-faced spoonbills in the whole world and about two-thirds of the world’s population spend the winter in the Tsengwen River estuary, Tainan. But the tide was out, and so were the birds!

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So off we went to see lots of other interesting places, ending with a visit to the site that was St. Michael’s House in Tainan (opposite the Tainan Theological College,) which since the house demolition some years ago, is now used as a large vegetable garden, for local people and church members.  It’s a little oasis in the midst of the big city!

On Sunday, we went to the service at Grace Church, where Philip is the vicar.  The church is on the site of the Grace Church Kindergarten, and they have a very wonderful and very friendly congregation!

Their flower arrangement, combining Lent and Chinese New Year was beautiful!

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I was especially pleased to meet Rev. Samuel Liao, one of our retired clergy and his wife and family.  He is always so encouraging and cheerful, and loves to hear updates of the Anglican Church in England.  Hey, all of us are in red, or shades of it!

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A great service, and a group photo.  Or two, since some of our friends came a bit late and missed the service.  We met lots of old friends.  Ching-Ping, former teacher at St. James’ Kindergarten and her son.  Also Christopher, my colleague here at St. John’s University, his wife Linda and family, along with Linda’s mother who lives in Tainan.  And here they all are.  As it was Chinese New Year, there was no lunch after the service, but we had coffee and plenty of chat!

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And then it was time to say goodbye to Tainan.  Philip and family kindly took us in their car over to the east coast, Taitung 台東 for the next 2 days.  Taitung has the most wonderful coastal scenery in the world!  Blue skies and high mountains too.  And home to many of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.  This journey took many hours to get there, so we stopped for the evening at the famous Chihben (Zhiben / Jhiben) Hot Springs 知本溫泉 area, and went to the Hotel Royal where we had a yummy dinner and the extra blessing of watching the traditional dancing of the Beinan (Puyuma) People, oh and fireworks to finish the evening. (Check out this link for my report of our previous visit to the area over New Year weekend 2016-17, when we followed some of the same route).

So we arrived very late at our destination, Chishang 池上, in the northern area of Taitung, close to Hualien County border, and famous for it’s rice ~ and it’s scenery!

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Up early to see the sunrise and a walk around Dapo Lake, with THE best views!  And what great weather!

Philip and his wife have a good friend, Yi-hua, living in Chishang. Actually, she became a Christian through their ministry when they were in St. Paul’s Church, Kaohsiung, and she was baptized by Philip there a few years ago. In 2016, she moved to Chishang with her husband to start a business selling their newly-invented rice cakes, which are so wonderful!  All made using the 100% real and very famous Chishang rice. There’s savoury and sweet ones, and served with coffee, wow, so delicious.  We arrived on their doorstep (their shop is diagonally opposite the Chishang Presbyterian Church) while they were still asleep (having stayed up to the early hours baking!) and yet they warmly welcomed us in and shared about how God has led them in their business these recent months, ending with a prayer of blessing from Philip.  If you’re ever in Chishang, you just MUST go and visit!

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But now farewell to Chishang, and we were heading first north, then over the mountains to the coastal road and southwards along the coast to Yiwan Card Church 宜灣卡片教堂,  a Presbyterian Church built in 1951, used by the local Amis People 阿美族 (so called the ‘Card Church’ because the design was apparently copied from a card, collected in childhood by one of the church members!) Philip is here below holding an Amis Bible. The church is gorgeous ~ I just love the colours!

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We continued south, visiting famous landmarks and sea vistas, too many to mention, but all in the area around Chenggong Township 成功鎮, where they also have beautiful flowers. And to the Amis village of Pisirian (meaning the place where people raise sheep in Amis language)…

The most famous scenic spot in the whole area is Sanxiantai 三仙台 and its amazing eight-arch bridge.  I walked over the whole thing and up to the light beacon, built in 1915 during the Japanese Colonial Period, the first of its kind on the east coast. I loved it!  I had been to Sanxiantai once before, but many many years ago.  Apparently the best time to go is at sunrise, but we got there mid-afternoon and the clouds were already rolling in fast, so at least it was nice and cool!

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We stayed overnight at the Bunun Leisure Farm, 布農部落 where we had visited also on the same trip as the Beinan Hunting Festival, over New Year weekend 2016-17.

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Bunun Leisure Farm is an initiative set up by Bunun Presbyterian pastor, Rev. Pai Kwang-Sheng and his wife to help the local Bunun People in education and to revive their traditional culture, and to share these resources with visitors, providing a reliable and sustainable source of income for the people.  It was the first time that Philip and his wife had visited, and oh, how they loved it!  We had a wonderful dinner, watched the music performance that evening, and then the dancing performance the next morning, met Rev. Pai who kindly hosted us to lunch and coffee and, well, we were all so so happy!  It is such a great place.  We couldn’t bear to leave!

But leave we had to, in order to get back to Tainan.  And the next day to Taichung.  And after a wonderful dinner, hosted by Rev. Lily Chang for those who help lead and preach at the St. James’ English service, so I headed back to Taipei on Thursday early morning  and eventually home on Thursday night.

What a great Chinese New Year it was!  Special thanks to good friend Ah-Guan and her family, Rev. Philip Ho and his family, and all those who we met, those who welcomed us so warmly and generously, including the Rev. Lily Chang and the Wang family in Taichung, Ms. Xiao in Chishang, Rev. Samuel Liao and the church members of Grace Church, Tainan, Rev. Pai in Bunun Farm and so many more ~ and thanks to the good friends who kindly gave us their Bunun Farm coupons so we could stay there effectively as their guests.  Everyone was so hospitable, gracious and kind.  And not surprisingly, some were exhausted – especially Philip as he did magnificently with so many long hours of driving ~ I have more than one photo like this one!  Thank you Philip.  And I just love his hat!

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The weather was amazing, the scenery was spectacular, the dancing was great, there were virtually no traffic problems, and everything worked out so well.  Thanks be to Almighty God!

And when I got home, Bishop Roger and his wife, Alice and sister-in-law Anne (who’d all been staying at my house over the New Year while visiting Anne and Alice’s lovely parents in the nearby Shuang-Lien Elderly Home) had just left for their respective homes in Mauritius and USA. But I know from their photos that the weather in Sanzhi over the New Year was also warm and sunny,  thanks be to God.  Big thanks to Bishop Roger and family for house-sitting!  This is us on the only day we overlapped, their arrival day on Friday February 9!

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Chinese New Year officially lasts until the 15th day of the first lunar month, so we still have another week to go until the official start of Lantern Festival ~ but as the Chinese New Year festival was so late this year, all work in Taiwan officially resumed on Wednesday, as did all schools, except universities ~ our new semester starts on Monday.  Ah yes, it’s all go to get ready!

So with the New Year well and truly here, wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Dog!

On Top of the World! Yushan / Jade Mountain 玉山 ~ Taiwan’s Highest Mountain 3,952 m 12,966 ft!

Occasionally, just very occasionally, so many good things happen all at once to make an event so amazing and unexpectedly awesome, that even the hardest of sceptics are won over.  Such was our ascent of Taiwan’s highest mountain, Yushan / Jade Mountain 玉山 these past few days.  Incredible!

If you’ve been reading this blog over the last month, you’ll see I’ve braved the intense heat and humidity of Taipei to climb a few mountains.  Endurance, resilience, stamina all put to good use.  But without telling you why.   Just in case.  Don’t want to say too much. Well, it was all because of Yushan.  Because after years of applying for a permit to stay at the Paiyun Cabin / Lodge (2.4 km below the Yushan Main Peak – and the place to stay in order to make an early final ascent to the summit), we finally got THE permit.  YES! And for 12 people no less.  No mean feat, I can assure you. And what’s more, we got permits for two nights!

My good friend, Jasmine Yu, who has kindly included me on her mountain expeditions with her extended family over the past few years, also invited me to join them this time. Their dream has long been for a trip to Yushan, really ever since Jasmine climbed Yushan for the first time in 2010 with a group of her colleagues. And so, nearly every summer she spends hours and hours applying for the chance to get a permit.  But there’s only bunk spaces for less than 100 people at Paiyun, and summer is a popular time. Two years ago, we did actually get the Paiyun permit, but then a typhoon came and we had to cancel the whole trip.   This time, Jasmine started applying about 6 weeks ago, and applied every day for 2 weeks.  The applications have to be made one month in advance. But every day, the answer was ‘no’.  Then suddenly on the last day, we got news.  Yes!  12 permits for Paiyun, and not just for Thursday July 27 only, but it turned out for the previous night too.  2 nights?  At Paiyun? Are you sure?  How did that happen?  Well, we were first on the waiting list for Wednesday night, but still eligible to apply for Thursday night.  We hit the jackpot on Thursday night – then 12 people in different groups cancelled for Wednesday, so we had permits for both nights.

But we were still a little nervous.  Anxiously watching the weather forecast…..

Last weekend, it seemed like the whole of the western Pacific was roaring with typhoons and tropical storms blowing this way and that.  Three were up near Japan. One was down near Vietnam.  And a low pressure area east of the Philippines might possibly strengthen into a typhoon and be coming this way.

But by Monday, the weather forecasters were announcing that it wasn’t coming after all. Phew. We could go!

So on Tuesday we breathed a huge sigh of relief, packed our rucksacks and set off.   Our group included Jasmine’s husband, their 2 children, her 76-year-old mother and 2 of her sisters, one husband, one nephew, one friend, and of course our guide and leader, Lai San 賴桑 ~ who did an amazing job leading the way, carrying 30 kg of luggage too. We had applied for our permit using our new group name, Edelweiss – the flower grows all over the high mountains of Taiwan – including Yushan, and the song was performed by Jasmine’s son at a recent musical event.  So we were the Edelweiss Group!

On Tuesday night, we stayed at a small guest house in the Bunun Tribe’s Wangxiang Village (望鄉部落) in Xinyi Township, Nantou, where many of the men work as porters or guides for people climbing in the high mountains.  We had already met two of them on previous trips. The villagers are mostly all members of the Presbyterian Church.   From the place where we stayed, we got our first view of Yushan early the next morning…. excited YAH!

By 9:00 am on Wednesday morning, we were at Yushan trail-head (at 2,600 m above sea-level) ready to start our 8.5 km climb to Paiyun.  The sun was out, the skies were blue, the clouds were white, the path was clear, the weather was cool, and we were smiling away ~ and all in yellow!

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The trail is well-marked and has very helpful signboards all along it explaining things.  It also has a few rest places with eco-toilets ~ and of course lots of people going up and down. Our ascent to Paiyun Lodge took us about 6 hours.  Most amazing of all the people who we met on the trail were the guys who work at Paiyun, they have to carry everything up on their backs – 35 kg at a time.  Respect.