Published last week by the Church Mission Society, my latest link letter, click on the link below…
Escaping from Taipei’s endless rain and cold, and in search of some sun, warmth and blue skies, so we just spent this past week driving down Taiwan’s east coast. Beautiful! Yes, sun, warmth and blue skies, all so much appreciated. My 3 friends, Xiu-Chin, Ah-Guan and her daughter Ya-Ling arrived here on Monday from Taichung and Tainan ~ first stop was to visit Rev. Philip Jung-Long Ho and his wife Shiao-Lan, recently retired back here to Sanzhi from Grace Church, Tainan. So wonderful to see them again!
We set off from Taipei on Tuesday and headed east to Yilan, staying in the famous hot spring town of Jiaoxi. Most interesting is the waterfall and RC church at nearby Wufengqi 五峰旗….
The story behind the church is that some 40 years ago, a group of hikers got lost in the mountains nearby and prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. She appeared to them in a vision and guided them down the mountain to safety. The church is beautiful, especially with the red lanterns for New Year and the pink cherry blossom…
We left Jiaoxi heading south to Hualien, stopping at the cliffs….
In Hualien, we visited Rev. Joseph Ray-En Ho (son of Rev. Philip Ho), his wife Pei-Yin and children, who are based at St. Luke’s Church…
His daughter carries a specially-made cross for some of the services, and was so happy to dress up for a photo with us!
We were staying at Ji-an, just outside Hualien, where the early morning scenery was just what we needed after all of Taipei’s endless rain!
We visited Liyu Lake, and watched the inflatable ducks and fountains performing to music…
We visited the local sites, passing by the famous Hualien Starbucks – in the shipping containers…
On Friday, we drove south from Hualien along the coast to Taitung, Taiwan’s most scenic coastal route, crossing the Tropic of Cancer on the way….
The east coast beaches are beautiful!
In Taitung, we stayed at a guest house right near the old sugar factory which is reinventing itself as a big art and cultural space…
Taitung is famous for its custard apples, being sold at the side of the road, so we bought a box and took them with us….
The multi-coloured building at Dawu has had a fresh coat of paint since I last visited, it’s stunning!
Saying goodbye to the east coast, we drove over the mountains and through the new tunnel eastwards to Pingtung, where we stayed with our good friend, Ju-Zi at Wouli. Last year I stayed with her over Chinese New Year and wrote up my blog post here about my visit. It’s an amazing place, with so much history and culture, and we had a really warm welcome. Ju-Zi lives in the Dachen Village in Pingtung, and cooks the most delicious and authentic Dachen food, which she gave us to eat on Saturday night, helped by A-Chao. So delicious!
After the Sunday service at St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung yesterday, so I returned to Taipei, while the 3 others in our group carried on to Kaohsiung to see the Taiwan Lantern Festival. In fact, they went out every night in every place we stayed to see the different Lantern Festivals. There were lanterns everywhere of every kind, including tigers of course. The Lantern Festival officially launches tomorrow, the 15th day of the first lunar month, but celebrations have been ongoing throughout this month. Great to see some colour. Also great to some blue skies and sunshine. Ah yes, it was a wonderful week of traveling round Taiwan, enjoying the scenery and visiting friends. In previous years, we’ve traveled round Taiwan during the Chinese New Year week itself, but then so is everyone else. We were fortunate this year to be able to go a week later, so it was much quieter – which means no traffic jams. YES! Thanks to everyone for their hospitality and my 3 friends for their company – and driving!
🏮Happy Lantern Festival everyone!🏮
Rain, rain and more rain – and mud, such a great combination! Plenty of both to keep me wet and disgustingly dirty for a whole week. Hey, at least we had no wind, or at least not at the same time as the rain. We even had 3 whole days when there was no rain at all! Overcast maybe, cold, damp, and very wet underfoot, but rain, no. And there were even 2 days when the sun came out briefly and we had blue sky for a few minutes. Luxury! This is the only blue-sky view of Taipei City that I got, taken from Qixingshan 七星山, Day 3.
Many asked me the question, “Wouldn’t it be better to wait for good weather?” Of course, yes! But if the good weather doesn’t come, then still get out there and make the most of it! You never know what you might see. Check out this temple with the cherry blossom for example….
And so it was that the weather forecast for Taipei for the whole of the week for the Chinese / Lunar New Year (CNY) celebrations was rain, rain and more rain. 🌧️🌧️ And the weather forecast was right spot on! 😕🙃
Ha ha, the good news is that here in Tamsui on the NW coast, the weather was even worse than elsewhere in Taipei. Appreciate that fact if you live in downtown Taipei! Every day the wind howled around my house, the rain poured and everything was damp and humid. So the answer is, get out of Tamsui – that’s motivation enough, just get out. Everywhere else has better weather than here! And of course, further south in Taiwan, it was lovely and sunny all week, but that’s the way it always is. Actually, Taipei is largely deserted every CNY holiday as so many people return to their family homes elsewhere in Taiwan – and the terrible winter weather in Taipei is often an added incentive to get out of the city over the CNY time. But then again, this was Erziping 二子坪 on Section 1, Day 1 …..
We are right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, and despite strict border and quarantine controls, Taiwan has between 20-50 domestic cases being reported every day this past week, mostly in Taoyuan and Kaohsiung in known clusters. There continue to be some restrictions, like wearing facemasks outside the house, including for photos, and we’re also advised not to go to busy places. Apart from the temples, the busiest places were the MRT trains in the afternoons coming home, but nowhere near as crowded as on a normal working day. Anyway, I did keep my facemask on – spot the red 2022 Year of the Tiger facemask….
Given all that, what better idea than to spend the very wet Chinese New Year 2022 holiday week celebrating the arrival of the Year of the Tiger by doing the Taipei Grand Hike?!
Picture the city of Taipei built in a river basin, surrounded by mountains on 3 sides, the 4th side being the river running roughly northwestwards out to the sea. Although most of the basin is built up, right of the river is actually known as Taipei City, while left of the river and far north, south, east and west is the old Taipei County, now known as New Taipei City. Taipei City boundaries go north right up to the beautiful Yangmingshan (YMS) 陽明山 Mountains, and so the Taipei Grand Trail, an initiative of the Mayor of Taipei City, goes around Taipei in a kind of semi-circle. It’s a bit confusing though, because some of the mountains that surround Taipei are officially in New Taipei City, so they are not included in the Taipei Grand Trail. Anyway, there are 12 special signposts along the whole trail, often at ‘viewpoints’ (though I hardly saw any views, only rain and fog!) with a Chinese character on the top of each one, some also with a notice of the year 2022. Arranged together, the Chinese characters spell out the phrase: 臺北東西南北大縱走壯遊趣, aka the Taipei Grand Trail. The idea is to take a selfie at each one, then combine them into a collage, for which you can get a prize on presenting the photo at the government office in charge of the trail, as a souvenir to show you’ve completed the challenge. This is mine:
While the upper slopes of the YMS Mountains are a protected national park, with lots of trails, the lower slopes are largely forested and contain lots of graveyards, temples and shrines. This being CNY, so the temples and shrines were very busy with people making offerings and seeking the blessing of the gods for the New Year.
The trail is divided into 7 sections, 5 for the northern part, starting at near sea-level at Guandu 關渡 MRT Station on the western side, going up over the YMS Mountains and down, then a branch off across the middle of the city along a hilly ridge and down to Jiantan 劍潭 MRT. The southern part has 2 sections, going along the Nangang 南港 Mountains to the east of the city, and finishing at Maokong 貓空, up in the tea plantations above Taipei Zoo. Each section is arranged to start and finish at either a Metro MRT station or a bus stop that links to one, and if you’re reasonably fit, then each section can easily be done in about 4-5 hours of walking, although there is a lot of climbing. But then it is a mountain trail, so upwards and onwards is the way to go. Total length is officially 92 km. This is the official sign…
There is one very useful website in English called ‘Taiwan Trails and Tales’ where I got a lot of information, and downloaded all the maps. Do check it out. Also interesting to learn there some of the tales of the buildings and temples that you pass on the trail. Highly recommended. There’s also a Facebook page called 臺北大縱走 where people post their photos and updates of the trail and activities.
CNY 2022 officially started on Tuesday February 1, and the whole of that week was a national holiday. We finished work a few days before the official national holiday started, and so I started the Taipei Grand Hike on Thursday January 27 with Section 1 at Guandu 關渡 MRT. Foggy at low levels to start the day, gradually the fog lifted and the sun came out, there was blue sky everywhere. The trail heads upwards all day, along the irrigation canal, through small farms, orange groves and forests, and then climbs up to Erziping 二子坪 Visitor’s Centre in the Yangmingshan (YMS) National Park.
The following day, Friday January 28, the rain came down in torrents, and I had a day off. The forecast for Saturday January 29 was heavy rain in Tamsui, but light rain up in the YMS Mountains. So off I went to do Section 2! I had done this section many times before, up and down Datun West, South and Main Peaks 大屯山 , so I knew the trail to be very wet and muddy – there’s a lot of ropes that you need to use to pull yourself up, and the paths are slippery; and I also knew that being CNY so there wouldn’t be many people there braving the elements. Fortunately, at the start of the trail, I met a man who told me he was also doing the same route that day, but with a group who would be about an hour behind me. Kind of reassuring given the weather! As it was, I then saw nobody until I got to the top of Datun Main Peak, where out of the rain and fog on the road that goes up there appeared 2 foreigners on YouBikes, they had ridden all the way up from Taipei! They said they often rode up on real bikes, but always dreamt of coming up on YouBikes. YouBikes are designed for people like me to cycle in and around the city, they have 3 gears and a basket on the front. Not for the high mountains. So crazy! But, like me, they thought that if they wait for the good weather, they may wait weeks, and given that this is the weather, then why stay home? Just do it! Ah, we love all this rain, rain and more rain. By the time I got to Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑, I was totally soaked!
Leaving the Datun Mountain Range, the path goes down to Zhuzihu 竹子湖, at the top of the valley where the farms grow calla lilies, just starting to flower.
The next day, Sunday was also heavy rain, I had another day off. In the evening, the rain stopped and a cold front came along, so Monday morning was very cold, but forecast to stay dry. On Monday January 31, CNY Eve, I set off for the highest part of the trail, Section 3, from Xiaoyoukeng 小油坑 to Fengguikou 風櫃口 via Qixingshan 七星山, 1120 m. I had also done this section many many times before; it helps to know the route! It was 6.2°C at Xioayoukeng 小油坑 Visitor Centre, and 5°C up at the top of the mountains. Brrrr! Mostly it was overcast, but it stayed dry and the sun even came out a few times, though this was to be the last time I would see the sun for the rest of the week. The trail starts with the fumaroles belching sulpur fumes at Xioayoukeng 小油坑. The views were great!
Then started a whole week of rain. Every day, from Tuesday to Saturday, I went out in the rain and came home in the rain, ah I was so damp! On Tuesday February 1, CNY’s Day 1, and Wednesday February 2, CNY Day 2, I was out in the rain doing Section 4, from Fengguikou 風櫃口 down to Dahu Park 大湖公園 MRT in Neihu. This route was completely new to me, and although the signposts were many, there were nowhere near enough, especially at 2 key areas. I tried from both ends of the trail. There is an official app, with a route map, but it’s not compatible with my phone, so I downloaded a separate map onto the phone and used that, following the route, stopping to check probably 15-20 times. I then did the same thing for every other section of the trail afterwards, although Section 4 was by far the most lacking in signposts. Now I know that on a rainy muddy day, it is definitely better to start from Dahu Park MRT and head upwards to Fengguikou, and get the bus down from there. Once you can find it, the trail is really beautiful, starting at the cherry blossom tree, going up past the YuanJue Waterfall 圓覺瀑布, then among the strawberry farms of Neihu 內湖, and up into the high forests. It being the Year of the Tiger, those forests are the kind of forest you might expect to see a real tiger, if there were any in Taiwan, that is. As it was, the only people I saw on the trail were 2 young men on mountain bikes screeching through the mud, they were so amazingly fast, and very dirty!
Thursday February 3, CNY Day 3, Section 5, and local people were starting to get out and about. The trail runs from Bishan Temple on Bishan Mountain 碧山巖 to Jiantan 劍潭 MRT. There were lots of people on the trail, mostly in family groups, everyone with an umbrella, and it rained most of the day! This section is very close to Taipei, and I had done part of it many times. The main sounds were of airplanes taking off from nearby Songshan Airport, and the chanting broadcast from the temples and graveyards. There are many graveyards up there, including a Christian one, and there are many gruesome stories told about crimes that have taken place up there, plus haunted temples. The main viewpoint was all in fog, so it all added to the eerie atmosphere! A lady asked me to take her photo at the viewpoint, holding a sign saying ‘98’ indicating the number of times she had climbed up there in the past 2 years! The trail section ends just above Jiantan MRT Station near the Grand Hotel, an old military area, and full of temples and shrines.
Section 6 marks the start of the southern section of the trail, and involves quite a journey time-wise for me to get to the far eastern side of Taipei over at Nangang 南港, over 2 hours each way. Good job I left home every day at 5:30 am to get outside to the first bus! Section 6 was done on Friday February 4, CNY Day 4, and guess what, well it rained most of the day. Light steady rain – but still, rain is rain! The trail runs from China University of Science and Technology 中華科技大學, not far from Nangang Station, going up and along and down eventually to Linguang 麟光 MRT Station. I had done the first part of this trail many times, on the stone paths that lead up to the 95 Peak. The second part was completely new to me, here the stone path finished, and instead there was mud, and more mud. But it was very interesting, even though we again went through many graveyards. One of the grave roofs was being used to feed the pigeons!
And so to Section 7 on Saturday February 5, CNY Day 5, and what a wonderful way to finish the Taipei Grand Hike. This section is a big loop, starting and finishing at National Chengchi University 國立政治大學, near Taipei Zoo and goes up to Maokong 貓空 . I had been up there on the cable car several times, but never walked up the trail, which goes right up to the cable car terminus. Much of this trail section is newly done, and it’s wonderful. It starts on the Zhinan Temple 指南宮 Trail, goes up through the cherry blossom, down to the river, and up again through the tea plantations. A huge number of steep steps, but really interesting, and full of people enjoying a day out too. It was overcast all day, and didn’t rain until I got to the bus stop to come home!
All in all, a great way to spend a CNY holiday week! Yes, I did also spend time with friends celebrating, especially on CNY Eve, and am grateful to them. I also let them know that this was my plan during the week, so they would know where I might be. Yes, I really appreciated this week of walking, hiking over Taipei’s mountain trails, seeing new things, enjoying the scenery and all that nature has to offer. Grateful also to be able to come home safely each day, and start out afresh the next. Yes, my boots were completely wet from one day to the next, and so was everything else, but it was a fun experience and exhilarating to complete it all. And yes, when the weather is better, I might well do some of those sections again – some could be combined to do two or more in a day, the possibilities are endless. Watch this space!
As long as there’s no serious weather warnings of torrential rain or storms or typhoons, and as long as you stick to the paths of the Taipei Grand Hike and don’t do anything stupid, then don’t let bad weather put you off. Go out! If not the Taipei Grand Hike, then find something to do that takes you out! Don’t regret it and stay home waiting for better weather, it might never happen. After all, if I’d have stayed home, I’d have missed all that beautiful cherry blossom. Get outside, and live life to the full!
Updated February 18, 2022: I went today to the Geotechnical Engineering Office, the government office responsible for the Taipei Grand Trail. The staff confirmed that the ‘Hiking BIJI’ app (健行筆記) which marks the whole trail, for the time being anyway is limited to those who have Taiwan listed as their location on Google PlayStore. The photo above is of me with my Taipei Grand Trail towel, collected today on presentation of my photo collage, taken at their 3D photo wall! YES! Mission Accomplished!
Updated March 26, 2022: A friend of mine has contacted the Hiking BIJI (健行筆記) app developer and the app has now been modified to make it accessible for those in selected countries, including UK and USA. Their customer service is excellent! If your country is not listed, then contact them directly and ask them to allow your country access – but be prepared, the app is bascially all in Chinese ~ ah yes, gotta love that extra challenge!
Updated April 26, 2022: Since the Hiking BIJI became available, I have since done all the Taipei Grand Trail once again, this time using the app ~ April is a great month for the trail, it’s beautiful in spring! The post is here:
Pingtung: yes, it’s THE place to be for Chinese New Year (aka Lunar New Year / Spring Festival)! Everywhere is beautifully and creatively lit up with lanterns, and the temples and streets are busy. Although the pandemic has meant less travel than usual and the cancellation of many large events, there’s still plenty of things going on, and most people are wearing face-masks most of the time, and staying away from too many crowds….
It’s also THE place to be on normal days too ~ there’s so much to see, so much to do! Highlights include the Confucius Temple, and Xianmin Cultural Park – containing the old sugar factory and paper mill, both of which have been restored – it’s a good place to visit at night, and there’s street art all over!
Pingtung is Taiwan’s far distant SW county, famous for everything that northern Taiwan is not – meaning hot sunny days, mild nights, sandy beaches, coconut trees, fields of rice and fruit, high mountains, indigenous culture, Hakka villages, wide streets, a slow and unhurried pace of life – and of course its traffic lights!
Pingtung City has over 30 sets of animated traffic lights where the little green man is proposing to his girlfriend on the red light and they’re walking hand in hand on the green light. In 2018, they introduced another 30 or so sets of traffic lights where they’re expecting a baby, and walking along as a family. Such fun! Check out this Taipei Times article here all about it. All so appropriate for Valentine’s Day this past weekend. Pingtung is just such a romantic city!
I was there for Chinese New Year, from February 11-15, kindly invited by good friend, Ju-Zi 菊子 ~ she’s the very lively chair of the church council at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Pingtung. Ju-Zi took me on the train to visit Zhutian 竹田, home to mostly Hakka people, and famous for its historical train station from the Japanese era, and the coffee shop in the converted rice mill. It turns out that Zhutian is also the original home town of my good friend Mrs. Hsu – her childhood home has been restored and also converted into a coffee shop and museum. Her father was a member of Pingtung County Council and the family photo is on the front wall of the house. Really great to experience and soak up the Zhutian atmosphere!
St. Mark’s Church, Pingtung is small and very homely ~ the church members are just like a family, more so – in my opinion at least – than any other of our churches in the diocese. They are all so lovely – and so lively ~ there’s never a dull moment! The vicar is Rev. Joseph Wu 吳明龍牧師 – his wife and 2 children had come from Taipei for the festival; his son had even come all the way by motorbike! Ju-Zi invited them all to her home on Chinese New Year’s Eve for a delicious dinner ~ and me too. Thank you Ju-Zi!
St. Mark’s had a Thanksgiving Service on Friday, Chinese New Year’s Day, followed by a shared lunch and then an outing to a nearby forest. We also met up again for the Sunday Service on the third day of the festival, followed by lunch together and another trip out. One of the members is in a wheelchair – she came too, and the church members carried her up and down steps, ah she was so happy! And then a small group of church members came with me to Tainan to visit Bishop Lai and Mrs. Lai on Monday, on my way home to Taipei. Thank you! They are all so kind, friendly and very sociable!
One of the most popular places in Pingtung City in recent years is the former military dependents’ village, now known as Shengli Star Village (勝利星村), where the houses were mostly built in the 1930’s by the Japanese, but after World War II, they were used to house military families. As people moved out, so they were left to decay. They are now being restored, house by house, and converted into shops and restaurants. The place is humming with people!
The military personnel who lived in Shengli Village mostly came to Taiwan from Mainland China in 1949 ~ with Chiang Kai-Shek and the then government of the Republic of China (ROC), fleeing the advance of the Communist People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Some of the military personnel were Episcopalians and the earliest origins of St. Mark’s Church lie here in Shengli Village, where one of the military families held the first services in their living room ~ yes, this is the actual house!
St. Mark’s Church was consecrated in December 1966, built not too far from Shengli Village, and many of the current church members were themselves brought up in military families. I asked them where they considered their families to be from, and the response was a wonderful mix of Taiwanese, Hakka and Mainland China, with many different Chinese provinces listed. Several said their father came from China, while their mother is from Taiwan. As they settled down in Taiwan, many of the military men from Mainland China married Taiwanese women. Quite a lot who came to Taiwan already had wives and children in Mainland China, but with no hope of being reunited, so they married again in Taiwan. This was also the case with Ju-Zi’s father. He came from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang (Chekiang) 浙江, home province of Chiang Kai-Shek and many other notable people. As a military man, her father had left his wife and son in Mainland China, but with no chance of being reunited, so he was officially listed as ‘single’ and could get married again in Taiwan. This is Ju-Zi’s parents on their wedding day…
As the PLA advanced across Mainland China, so the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-Shek retreated to Taiwan and to the offshore islands of Kinmen and Matsu. Chekiang Province in exile relocated its capital to the offshore islands of Dachen (Tachen) 大陳島, where many ROC military personnel were based – one of their last strongholds in Mainland China, along with the nearby small Yijianshan Islands 一江山島.
In Ju-Zi’s words: on January 18, 1955, the Yijiangshan Islands were captured and the ROC army defeated. The people of the Dachen Islands were in great danger, and Chiang Kai-Shek, though reluctant to retreat, negotiated with the US government, who sent in the Seventh Fleet to evacuate everyone from the Dachen Islands to Taiwan. In total, 16,487 Dachen people were evacuated, starting to board on February 8, 1955, and landing at Keelung Port, Taiwan the next day, February 9 (apologies for any historical inaccuracies: check out the official Wikipedia version of these events here).
One of the people from the Dachen Islands to arrive in Keelung on February 9, 1955, was Ju-Zi’s mother, along with her mother and siblings, including a sister-in-law, a group of 7 in total. At the time of their arrival in Taiwan, Ju-Zi’s mother was 31; she had been married and given birth to 2 children in Dachen, but both children had died. So on arrival, she too was officially listed as ‘single’. At the time of the evacuation to Taiwan, she was staying with her mother, and so was evacuated along with the family group. In the rush of the emergency evacuation, and thinking this would be only a temporary move to Taiwan, so they brought little more than bedding and basic clothing with them. On arrival in Taiwan, they were initially housed in schools and government accommodation, until they were assigned more permanent homes.
Those homes were to be villages specially constructed for the Dachen people, over 30 such villages were built around Taiwan. Depending on their skills and previous work experience, so the Dachen people were assigned to villages – on the coast for fishermen, in rural areas for farmers, and in the cities for those with other skills. Ju-Zi’s grandmother and the rest of the family were in the fishing business, so they were assigned homes in Donggang, about 30 minutes drive from Pingtung. Ju-Zi’s mother had written that her skills were in sewing, especially making fishing nets, and she was assigned a newly-built house in Pingtung’s ‘Dachen New Village’. The photos below are of the village today, with the green sign 大陳新村 at one of the entrances. These days the village is sandwiched between a school, temple, park and Carrefour Supermarket, but the old alleys and narrow streets remain. Cars and motorbikes can just about get through some of the streets, but originally it was only possible for pedestrians -and maybe bicycles. As time has gone on, so most of the original Dachen arrivals have died or moved away, and their houses sold, renovated, remodeled or completely rebuilt. Only 6 of the original Dachen families remain, and it is the younger generations who live there; Ju-Zi’s mother is the last of her generation in the village, and one of only 3 left in the family group of 7 who originally came in 1955.
Today, Ju-Zi and her mother (now aged 97) still live in the same family house in Pingtung’s Dachen New Village. This is the house, with Ju-Zi putting up the red couplets for the New Year….
This is Ju-Zi and her mother….
Ju-Zi’s father was 12 years older than her mother, and when Ju-Zi was born (an only child), her mother was 38, and her father 50. This is the most wonderful family photo of the 3 of them at home….
The Dachen Islanders found it difficult to settle in Taiwan, mainly because of language. They could only speak their own Dachen language, few could speak any Mandarin Chinese, and certainly none could speak Hakka or Taiwanese. As a result, many found it difficult to find a job, and as opportunities came to move to the USA, so many set off to make their fortunes cooking Dachen food in New York’s China Town, where Dachen chefs had a big influence on US Chinese cuisine. Fortunately when Ju-Zi’s father and mother met – in Pingtung’s Dachen Village, where he was visiting a friend – they had enough common language (both being from the same Chinese province) to be able to communicate, and her father could also speak Mandarin Chinese, so he could find a good job. He was also the one who would go shopping for the family and handle all communications outside the home. This is Ju-Zi’s mother and grandmother on the left, and on the right – the family outside their house!
Ju-Zi herself is fluent in the Dachen language, Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese and with some English too. She spent most of her career as a tour guide, leading Taiwanese tour groups all over the world, mainly to Mainland China, Japan, SE Asia. After her father died 20 or so years ago, her mother was left alone, and found communication with Taiwan people almost impossible, as she has never learned either Mandarin Chinese or Taiwanese. Some years ago she moved into a care home, but there was nobody there who could speak her language, and equally important, nobody there who could cook Dachen food. She was really miserable.
The first Christian in her family, Ju-Zi was first introduced to St. Mark’s Church and the Christian faith when she was 15, when she was invited by her classmate, Wen-Ping, daughter of Rev. Charles C. T. Chen, then vicar of St. Mark’s Church, to come to the church youth group. Of the 10 students invited, only Ju-Zi continued on; she became a Christian, was baptized and joined St. Mark’s Church. She has been a member ever since, with a short gap of a few years when she lived in Taipei and worshiped at Good Shepherd Church.
Five years ago, Ju-Zi’s mother was baptized by the then vicar of St. Mark’s Church, Rev. Joseph Ho. For the baptism, he spoke in Mandarin Chinese, and Ju-Zi translated everything into Dachen language for her mother. About that time too, Ju-Zi also made the decision that her mother could no longer continue living in the care home, and she would have to find a way to take care of her at home, with the help of a live-in caregiver. Ju-Zi also decided that she would have to learn to cook her mother’s Dachen food. Following her mother’s instructions as she sat nearby, she started from scratch, with 5-6 practice runs at each dish before her mother declared each one to be perfect! This is Ju-Zi in action….
Cooking Dachen food for her mother each day and receiving her approval – and with her mother feeling so much happier, so Ju-Zi started to wonder if she could make a living this way. Having to stay home with her mother meant no more tour guiding and her mother had no pension, but she still needed some income. Maybe this was the way forward?
And so, through prayer and discernment, Ju-Zi had a vision of serving home-cooked Dachen meals to friends and guests – and so getting some income, but also through that, the chance to share her family story, and through that also, her Christian faith. She says that these days, so many people live alone – and they eat alone, and this would be such a great opportunity to bring people together, to enjoy each other’s company and to make friends. Plus too, cooking meals is very time-consuming, from buying the vegetables to preparing them all, and busy people in modern life have little time to enjoy authentic home cooking.
Amazing breakfasts made by Ju-Zi for me over Chinese New Year – well, three breakfasts over three days, to be precise….
Taking her mother out of the care home, and bringing her to live at home was a huge decision, and yet she went ahead in faith. Her mother is completely disabled, and can no longer talk, yet she thrives when she can eat her own food. So Ju-Zi’s vision was to build an extra room onto the side of the house, a very simple structure, built with a lot of DIY, decorated with second-hand everything collected from recycling stores, friends’ homes or wherever she could scavenge something as cheaply as possible. In that room, she would serve her guests delicious and authentic Dachen meals, and she would share the story of how this whole project came to be, why she was doing it, and how God had led her thus far.
The name Ju-Zi chose was ‘Wouli’ which in Dachen language is the word for ‘home’. Initial progress was slow, she had no experience of construction, couldn’t negotiate with the workers, was cheated or had a misunderstanding with the builder and the money ran out sooner than expected, and instead she was left with a skeleton of a room of iron bars, the corner posts in place, but no walls or roof or furnishings, Her initial confidence quickly changed to frustration, but this pushed her to pray and to cast herself into the hands of Almighty God. She now says that without those major setbacks, she would not have experienced the grace and mercy of God in the way that she has, as she came to fully rely on him to accomplish what she had in mind.
Bishop David J. H. Lai and Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang have both encouraged her to keep going and not lose heart, as has Rev. Joseph Wu and friends at St. Mark’s; in fact Wouli has been adopted and is partly supported by St. Mark’s as an outreach ministry. Ju-Zi has written an article for the diocesan magazine sharing her vision, and as a result, many of our church members across the diocese have been moved to help. Since then, through friends and contacts, Ju-Zi has collected and scavenged lots of roofing materials, corrugated iron sheeting, old windows, frames, furniture and, thanks be to God, the room is mostly complete, though she still has work to do on the garden and other buildings. Friends (and friends of friends) have written articles about her project and she has a steady stream of visitors phoning up to book meals. Over Chinese New Year, she could have taken bookings every day, but she took the week off instead. Many of the guests are people who themselves have vision and drive but lack the courage to do what Ju-Zi has done, and so they show their admiration by offering their help and expertise ~ gardening, DIY skills, cleaning, while others bring things that may be useful, a second-hand fan for the heat, kitchen equipment, even a fridge ~ everyone is welcome!
A few months ago, Ju-Zi gained her Chinese cooking license, which will help considerably. She says she remains indebted to Rev. Joseph Wu, who was in shop management for many years before becoming a full-time vicar, and has given her much practical advice. It is important to state that Wouli is not run as a business as such, but guests do give a set amount per meal as a donation.
Ju-Zi invited us for the Chinese New Year’s Eve meal, and gave us an authentic Dachen meal – so delicious! Nian gao is a main staple, and is especially popular at New Year.
Ju-Zi’s vision does not just stop at serving meals, but extends to reading groups, environmental action, developing and sharing friendships, life experiences, and of course sharing the Christian faith with those who come. It’s kind of community-building from the grass roots upwards. Maybe one day it could even become residential, sharing lives together. Four friends, including Rev. Joseph Wu have just started meeting regularly on Mondays at Wouli for fellowship, and as a way to invite people to come along who may not feel happy about going to a church. Ju-Zi’s testimony is compelling, but she would be the first to say that rather it is God’s love, grace and mercy that are truly compelling!
Praying for God’s blessing on Ju-Zi and her mother, and that Wouli will continue to go from strength to strength, becoming a place to share God’s peace, joy, hope and love ~ as well as good food and friendship!
The dark pink cherry blossom is in bloom all over Taipei, looking spectacular! Everyone says it’s even more beautiful than ever ~ maybe because of the very cold start to January ~ with 2 separate days of snow on Yangmingshan, the mountains above Taipei. Whatever the reason, the world has become pink, and it’s beautiful!
The cherry blossom season up at Yangming Park (in the Yangmingshan National Park area) officially started today, and today was also the first day of our holiday for New Year…
This is the cherry blossom at St. John’s University, taken yesterday…
And at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, Taipei on Wednesday…