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Circling Around @ The Still Point of the Turning World: Update from Taiwan 😷

“Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future / And time future contained in time past… / Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / Cannot bear very much reality. / Time past and time future / What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present…

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; / Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, / But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered…

After the kingfisher’s wing / Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still / At the still point of the turning world…”

A few extracts from T. S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton (1935), part of Four Quartets ~ to set the scene for this update from Taiwan…

‘Circling Around @ The Still Point of the Turning World’ kind of describes what it all feels like. After our recent Covid-19 surge that arrived with a bang in mid-May, so Taiwan managed to contain the spread over the summer, and case numbers have gone way down to single figures, and on several days to zero. Having spent until the end of July under Level 3 Restrictions, we are now on Level 2, with facemasks compulsory everywhere outside the home, only taken off for eating and drinking. So life now proceeds with considerable normality, and we’ve got used to all the mandatory temperature checks, QR codes, facemasks, social distancing, hand sanitizer and crowd controls. Most people are still staying local, but hey, there’s still plenty to do locally. Over the last month, swimming pools and beaches reopened, indoor dining restarted, restrictions on national parks and mountain areas mostly lifted. In fact, the last full week of August, we had a week off, and so I was able to go to our local mountain areas, Yang-Ming Shan, Guan-Yin Shan and Chingshan Waterfall. Plenty of fruits, fungi, flowers, butterflies and views….

Although Taiwan as a whole is under Level 2 Restrictions, and gradually opening up, some areas up here in the north are seeing cluster infections, and further restrictions can / are / may suddenly be reimposed with immediate effect. Taoyuan has one Delta cluster – centred around 3 pilots, that has infected the teenage son of one of the pilots, but so far seems contained. Unconnected to that group is a different Delta cluster in the Greater Taipei area, centred on a kindergarten in southern Taipei (part of ‘New Taipei City’) with 23 confirmed cases so far. As a result, New Taipei City has today just announced ‘Enhanced Level 2 Restrictions’. Sports centers and places like libraries are to close for a week, and indoor dining is suspended. Yesterday they announced that 50 is now the max number of people allowed to gather inside, 100 outside, down from 80 / 300. This affects us, not only our Sunday services, but also St. John’s University (SJU), which started ‘Freshers Week’ (well, 3 days rather than a week) today, so adjustments to the program have been necessary. The training program for the student leaders for Freshers Week took place these past 2 days, assisted by our student fellowship. It finished with a ceremony in Advent Church yesterday, part of which included Bishop Lennon Y. R. Chang (as chair of the SJU trustees) and some of the alumni taking part in foot-washing, as they washed the feet of the student leaders…

Schools have been closed since mid-May, when classes moved online for 6 weeks or so, and then the school holidays began. The new academic year began on Wednesday September 1. Back to school has overlapped with Ghost Month, the 7th lunar month, which only ended on September 6. Many school principals, teachers and parents were worried about starting school in Ghost Month during a pandemic. Double trouble. Some schools held ‘bai-bai’ ceremonies in honour of the ghosts, to reassure parents and children of a peaceful return to school. These photos are taken from the facebook page of one of our local schools:

September 1 was also the day I returned for my first visit to the diocesan office in Taipei City since mid-May, cycling by You Bike from Tamsui. Starting out very early, though it was already 30°C, it usually takes about 80-90 minutes, first along the river to the historic Dadaocheng Wharf, and then into the city, joining all the commuters on their motorcycles….

By the time I came home mid-afternoon by a slightly different route passing the art museum, it was 36°C….

In the midst of all this so-called normal life, we have a huge vaccination program going on. Until now, virtually the only people in Taiwan who are fully vaccinated with 2 doses are medical workers, the rest of us are still waiting for vaccines to arrive, either donated by governments, or ordered by the Taiwan Government under the Covax scheme. In recent weeks, Taiwan’s own vaccine, Medigen has been released for use as well, but it’s come a bit too late for those who have already had a first dose of another brand and want the second dose to be the same. A total of 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca (AZ) Covid-19 vaccine donated by Poland arrived in Taiwan on September 5, making it Taiwan’s third-largest vaccine donor, after Japan (3.4 million doses of AZ) and the United States (2.5 million doses of Moderna). Poland is also the 4th EU member state to have pledged vaccine donations to Taiwan, following Lithuania (20,000 doses of AZ), Slovakia (10,000 doses, unspecified) and the Czech Republic (30,000 doses of Moderna). Improving diplomatic relationships between Taiwan and Lithuania (thereby resulting in deteriorating relationships between China and Lithuania) are a developing story, affecting the wider EU.

And the effect of people’s own political views on vaccinations? Well, while almost everyone seems to be planning to be vaccinated at some point, which vaccine they choose can be determined by their political views. For political reasons, Chinese vaccines are not available in Taiwan. Suffice it to say that those supporting Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-Wen and the DPP, who are more strongly Taiwanese, and include a lot of younger people, they are far more likely to get the locally made vaccines, like Medigen ~ in fact many already have. I would have done too if it had been available earlier. Those supporting the opposition KMT, who may also be protesting against the government’s focus on what they see as developing local vaccines at the expense of importing overseas vaccines, are far more likely to be waiting for a vaccine approved by the American FDA or at least one that they hope can allow them to travel freely overseas, like Moderna. The good news is that second vaccinations of AZ for seniors should start next week, and the following week, Taiwan will begin vaccination of 1.25 million young people, aged 12-17, with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, all free and all voluntary of course. So far 44.96 % of Taiwan’s 23.5 million population have received one shot of a Covid-19 vaccine, but only 4.1 % have had the two doses needed to be fully vaccinated.

Today’s figures announced at the daily 2:00 pm press conference were 7 domestic cases (including 6 connected with the kindergarten cluster) and 2 imported cases, with zero deaths. The 9 new cases bring the total in Taiwan to 16,056, of which 14,393 are domestic infections reported since May 15, when the country first recorded more than 100 Covid-19 cases in a single day. To date, 837 people have died of Covid-19 in Taiwan, including 825 since May 15.

The Taiwan Episcopal Church runs 8 kindergartens, scattered from north to south, with a total of about 1,000 children and staff. The one I know best is St. James, Taichung, where I was based for the first 7 years of my time in Taiwan. Please do pray for them all. Our kindergartens also serve as daycare centres for children aged 2½ – 6, open all day and all year long, and have after-school classes for elementary school children in the afternoons and early evenings too. They are busy places, and as we are seeing in Taipei, they are also vulnerable to cluster infections of Covid-19. It is a worrying time for parents, teachers and children. Extra worrying because the birth rate is falling dramatically, so kindergartens are competing with each other for pupils, and the last thing kindergartens want is a Covid-19 cluster and the negative attention it will bring. Records and predictive modeling show that “Enrollment at elementary schools is to decline by 16,000 students per year, falling to fewer than 1 million by 2029 and to 923,000 by 2036.” That’s a challenge for all. And further up the age groups, for higher education institutions like St. John’s University too. About 70 new students are expected for this Freshers Week, which does not include overseas students, they’re still awaiting visas and quarantines, so may come next semester instead. As a comparison, when I first came to SJU over 10 years ago, we would have 1,500 new students attending Freshers Week. Bishop Chang, SJU trustees, SJU President Huang, faculty and staff are constantly in consultation and working on downsizing, readjusting and realigning. Your prayers are appreciated for SJU too.

Three weeks ago, as part of our week off, I took off on the You Bike as dawn broke (already 30°C) and rode up the bicycle path that winds north around the coast, then on the coast road past the northern tip of Taiwan, the nuclear power stations, Dharma Drum Mountain, Juming Sculpture Park, and plenty more – all the way along to the Yehliu Geopark, where the rock formations are stunning. The most famous is the much-admired and closely-guarded Queen’s Head….

Queen’s Head, Yehliu

though her neck is getting thinner and thinner due to erosion. Ah, it was a great day out!…

And on the Sunday I also went by bus all the way further round the northern coast to Keelung, the main centre for the Ghost Festival ceremonies, being held most evenings. These were the dragon lanterns down on the quayside….

I was there to visit St. Stephen’s Church, where our newly-ordained Rev. Chen Ming-You was preaching – Rev. Julia Shu-Hua Lin is the vicar. It’s a great place to visit! As I had left on the 6:00 am bus, I got there over an hour early. The seniors who gathered with me for a photo at St. Stephen’s Church were already there, they had all arrived over an hour early for the service too. I was most impressed!

Meanwhile, it still feels like we’re all circling round the still point of the turning world. As the seasons change slowly and summer turns to autumn, so the lazy hazy days of high heat and humidity come to an end and the school year starts up again. The church calendar progresses in its own stately way, while the lunar calendar brings its colourful noisy festivals (next one up is the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival in 2 weeks time) with long weekends and family reunions. And so we follow the rhythm of it all, day by day, week by week. That’s the turning world. But throw a pandemic into the mix, and it turns it all upside down. Thinking back these past few months of the Covid surge under Level 3 Restrictions, and moving from ‘Time Past to Time Present’, we’re all ‘wondering what might have been and what has been’. All the summer camps we had to cancel, all the trips we couldn’t take, the friends we couldn’t see, the places we couldn’t go. ‘Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.’ Too true. We move on, into Time Future, the start of a new school year, and yet not quite so smoothly. Uncertainty reigns. If these Covid clusters get out of control, we’ll be back in Level 3. How can we make plans if nothing is certain? How can we invite people to an event ~ and then face having to uninvite them if numbers need to be reduced? Who to uninvite? Or can we rely on some to uninvite themselves? Taiwan culture is deeply traditional at heart, and such decisions are difficult. Cultural conundrums indeed. And so we circle round the still point of the turning world, slowing down to look and reconsider, not daring to touch, not daring to breathe, because it’s not over yet.

Taiwan’s Minister of Health, Chen Shi-Chung at the daily Press Conference

Recently, down at the sea, before sunrise, there were fireflies along the beach, flying over the seashore, and later a kingfisher flying from rock to rock along the water’s edge. ‘After the kingfisher’s wing / Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still / At the still point of the turning world.’ Sometimes the sea and sky seem to merge into each other on the horizon, and the light is still. Time to breathe in wonder. But sometimes it’s wild down there. Today’s News reports say a strong typhoon is developing in the Pacific Ocean and heading towards Taiwan at the end of this week. It seems that Typhoon Chanthu (璨樹) has jumped from a tropical depression to a Category 4 typhoon within 24 hours. So much for a ‘still point’. Typhoons have a still point at the centre, with the gale-force winds circling around, but we don’t go out looking, that’s for sure.

‘At the still point, there the dance is.’ Maybe the fireflies have found the still point ~ the way they dance around is really lovely. And the kingfisher too, though not dancing as such. ‘But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, / Where past and future are gathered…’ Maybe the ‘dance’ is the joy and anticipation of the old people who gather an hour early each Sunday for the service at St. Stephen’s Church. Maybe the ‘dance’ is the act of serving those young student leaders through washing their feet that Bishop Chang and the other SJU alumni feel is so important that they gather to do so every year. Maybe the ‘dance’ is me getting to the top of the mountain after a hot and humid climb in a facemask, seeing the view open up below and stopping to breathe. Or enjoying early morning coffee with friends, having walked up with them to Chingshan Waterfall before breakfast. Or making it by You Bike to the diocesan office just in time for the morning service at 8:30 am, and enjoying the cool air of the AirCon and blowing fans. Maybe the ‘dance’ is the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, bringing love, hope, joy and peace.

And then again, maybe it’s just the way we look at things. The first 2 photos of this blog post of circular buildings with blue sky are just buildings I pass on my way to Taipei. You can do anything with a photo app these days. One is the Ministry of Communication and Transport, near the diocesan office in Taipei, the others are apartment blocks by the river in Tamsui….

Just shows that maybe the ‘still point’ can be found anywhere, as long as we keep our eyes and ears open, our senses alert. Anywhere in time or space, in fact. And then, if and when we find the still point, that’ll be where we find the dance. Thanks be to God! So keep searching, keep looking, keep wondering!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Earth Day Vibes!

Green is the colour for Earth Day, of course! So here I am at our local elementary school all in green, for a day of fun and games with all 6 classes of children (photos taken by the school for their website). We were reusing empty plastic water bottles, and trying to get them across to the other side of the room by any means – but without touching them. It’s much harder than it looks, I can tell you!

Earth Day Vibes are not all fun and games for everyone however, and down in central and southern Taiwan, the earth is far too dry, and the drought is turning out to be extremely serious, the worst for over 50 years. Check out this very good BBC report here. Water is now cut for 48 hours a week in Taichung and all places south, so it’s a nightmare for those affected. Taiwan can claim to be the world’s most mountainous island, terrain is so steep that reservoirs are few, and water just seems to run straight off. There are very few long meandering rivers down south ~ the rivers are mostly short, and water goes directly into the sea. The reservoirs there are running out of water. Up here in the north, we have plenty of rain, but we’re praying for rain in the centre and south. It’s a bit ironic really seeing as we’re a small island surrounded by vast deep oceans on all sides. Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink….

The Deep Sea World by 許自貴 Hsu Tz-Guei, Taichung Art Museum

Like much else in Taiwan, water is heavily subsidized by the government and apparently we have the second lowest water prices in the world. Sounds good, but of course it leads to a lot of wastage, plus much of the infrastructure is old, and 14% of water is lost through leaking pipes. Now the government is subsidizing famers not to irrigate their land to grow rice, so that the water will be available for local industries. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: it’s a big challenge for governments too.

But not all is bad news down south. Yuanlin 員林 is a small town in central Taiwan and the government there has a Hollyhock Festival this month. Ah, it’s beautiful! On a weekend, the place is full of people coming to take photos and buy things at the local stalls. It really lifts people’s spirits to see all the flowers, and especially in the midst of this terrible drought.

Both the drought and the deadly train crash on April 2 on Taiwan’s east coast have dominated the domestic news recently, with public transport safety reviews and much discussion on cultural attitudes towards safety issues. Taiwan has done a really excellent job so far in keeping the country safe from Covid-19 (1,097 confirmed cases, 12 deaths), mostly through strict border and quarantine controls, testing and tracing, but in many other areas of safety, much still needs to be done.

Hydrangea chinensis 華八仙 in bloom on Yangmingshan

Taipei is blessed to have something the other cities in Taiwan don’t have, and that is a long meandering river that goes right through the heart of the city, from the mountains in the east westwards to the sea at Tamsui. And all along the river on both sides are bicycle paths. So if I need to go to Taipei, and the weather is good, then my idea of fun is to ride one of the shared bicycles, ‘You-Bike’ from Tamsui to Taipei along the riverside bike paths, starting very early in the morning. Takes 90 minutes or so each way, and can be very hot, but hey, it’s definitely worth it – and the roads once I get into the city are not too bad. These are some of the Earth Day Vibes from recent trips in the last week or two…..

I usually like to end the bike ride at Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf….

That’s also the terminus for the new Danhai light rail system. The trains are full of children’s book characters and fun art. Hey, we do things differently in Taiwan, there’s always something to make you smile! I took these photos at the terminus before everyone got on the train. Check them out!

Meanwhile down on our local ‘beach’ below St. John’s University, much work has been done by the local council upgrading the walkway. It’s now becoming a major place for sunset walks and gatherings, and it’s also where we did our fun run last week.

Looking back from the far end….

So last week was officially our annual celebration week for St. John’s University (SJU) 54th anniversary. Most of the large formal events were cancelled as a precaution in the pandemic, but one event that did go ahead was the 3.5 km fun run. Always the highlight for us every year! Our chaplain, staff and students wore our light blue student fellowship T-shirts, then we received yellow T-shirts as prizes. All first and second year students had to take part, plus we had others in fancy dress or indigenous outfits, along with some seniors from our community classes – in total over 600 people. A few staff joined in, with T-shirts available for the first 5 men and 5 women. The weather was perfect, and we ran round by the sea too. I was asked by our SJU reporter to take some photos as I ran, and she used some of them in her article (see here). Ah it was really fun, and check out the photos to see how we all did. Ha ha!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle also applies to my birthday celebrations which have been going on for the last month. With the global pandemic, Tomb-Sweeping Festival and Easter weekend, plus the train crash and now the drought, so I had other things to focus on and therefore reduced and delayed somewhat. Thanks to Rev. Charles C. T. Chen and his family, plus good friend A-Guan and all those in St. James’ Church, Taichung for the delicious birthday meals…

And we had a good time celebrating April birthdays in Advent Church, SJU Student Fellowship and the diocesan office too. Special thanks to Mei-Mei Lin for the huge birthday cake and candles…

Then a few days ago, we lost one of our beloved church members, Huei-Wen. Although she had been ill for a while, she didn’t want anyone to worry, and so, even in her last few weeks, didn’t want anyone to know. She didn’t want anyone to be sad or mourn either, and in our rector’s sermon today, he shared about how she continued to be joyful right to the end, always smiling at the nurses and showing her appreciation to them. We remember how she always came to church meetings with tea-eggs and tofu snacks for us to enjoy, how she ran the schools outreach work from Advent Church, and how she took such good care of her small grandsons. And how she made me laugh always wearing high open-toed sandals, even in the middle of the coldest winter! We give thanks to God for her life and deep faith, and pray for her family. May the joy of Christ that filled her also fill each one of us, and may we always be ready to share that joy with all those around us.

So belated greetings to you all for Earth Day 2021, and hope you’re working on how to reduce, reuse and recycle in your own home and community ~ and how you can push the government and elected officials to make this a priority. Y’know, those children were having such fun playing with old plastic water bottles that some said they were going home to practice. They loved it! Bringing joy, fun and happiness to others, and especially children, doesn’t need to cost a whole lot of money, and the burden of saving the earth can be shared with others in our community ~ so let’s go!

Sea of Flowers @ Taipei Guandu Plain! 🌺

Every year, the Taipei City Government arranges for local farmers in the area of Taipei City known as the Guandu Plain to plant flowers in some of their fields. Every year it’s so beautiful!

Most of the fields there are normally used for rice, but at this time of the year, the flowers make a nice alternative, and apparently help the soil too after the rice harvest.

And so now we have the wonderful display, a sea of flowers!

The flowers are mostly cosmos and zinnia, and this year they cover over 4 hectares. The fields are close to where the Keelung River joins the Tamsui River, and lie not far from the riverside bicycle path.

So last Sunday morning, very early, about 7 am – on my way by YouBike to Good Shepherd Church in Shilin, Taipei, so I spent 30 minutes checking out the scene. The Yangmingshan Mountains at the back were in cloud, but otherwise the light was stunning and it was early, so there weren’t yet too many people there taking photos.

It’s beautiful! Kudos to Taipei City Government – and the farmers.

The Taiwan News article about this is here.

If you have time and the opportunity, get on a YouBike and get there quick, it’s well worth it!

Almost On Top Of The World @ Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 3,492 m / 11,456 ft!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!”

And so, inspired by Dr. Seuss, off we went! To Dabajianshan no less!

Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 (Dàbàjiān Shān, tr: ‘Big Chief Pointed Mountain’) at 3,492 meters, 11,456 feet, up in Hsinchu County, part of Shei-Pa National Park 雪霸國家公園, is variously described as ‘one of the most iconic high mountains of Taiwan’, a ‘fearsome triangular tower summit with vertical walls on all 3 sides about 150 meters high and 100 meters wide’, looking like a ‘large barrel of wine, cold and daunting’, and a ‘huge, towering block of rock that thrusts out into the sky’. The Japanese called it “The Wonder Summit of the Century” and they were the first to officially record an ascent to the summit in August 1927. Dabajianshan is so famous, so iconic in Taiwan that the mountain is even pictured on the NT$ 500 note ….

One of several photos posted here courtesy of Jasmine Yu

The indigenous people of the area, the Atayal and Saisiyat, believe Dabajianshan to be sacred, the birth place of their ancestors. For safety reasons it is now illegal to climb the rock face to the summit, but climbing as far as the base below that rock for a photo with the mountain sign is counted as having reached the top…

From Wikipedia: “The first half of Dabajian Mountain is a medium grade hill with about a 35° incline. The top half is an almost straight up rock face. The mountain’s steep grade and unique features were mainly formed by wind. The mountain is composed mainly of greywacke – a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark color, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments or lithic fragments set in a compact, clay-fine matrix. Greywackes are mostly grey, brown, yellow or black, dull-colored sandy rocks which may occur in thick or thin beds along with shales and limestones. They are abundant in Wales, the south of Scotland, the Longford Massif in Ireland and the Lake District National Park of England; they compose the majority of the main alps that make up the backbone of New Zealand.”

Taiwan has 286 peaks over 3,000 m in altitude, and of these, ‘The 100 Peaks of Taiwan’, known as the ‘Baiyue’ 百岳 are the famous ones that everyone hopes to climb. These 100 peaks were selected not necessarily just for altitude, but also for their uniqueness, danger, height, beauty and prominence.

There are 4 Baiyue on the Dabajianshan ridge:
1) Baiyue No. 28: Dabajianshan 大霸尖山 3,492 m / 11,456 ft
2) Baiyue No. 36: Xiaobajianshan 小霸尖山 3,418 m / 11,214 ft
3) Baiyue No. 53: Yizeshan 伊澤山 3,297 m / 10,817 ft
4) Baiyue No. 86: Jialishan 加利山 3,112 m / 10,210 ft

Most hardened climbers do this trip to the Dabajianshan ridge in 3 days and 2 nights, but everyone says it’s hard work. We chose to do it by splitting day 1 into 2 days, and so we went for 4 days and 3 nights. The total length of the whole trail is about 60 km, and I read that the total elevation gain (ie how much we climbed) is 2,437 meters.

But first, let me rewind to a month or so ago when my good friend, Jasmine Yu very kindly invited me to join her 2020 family mountain trip; and I was delighted to say ‘YES!’ We went with our regular friendly mountain guide, Laisun, who led us on our first mountain trip way back in 2011, and except for last year when we couldn’t go at all, we’ve been going with him every year since. Back in 2011, Jasmine’s children were then aged 10 and 13, and over the years, we’ve also included grandma and many aunties and uncles, a few cousins and friends too. Possibly the most memorable trip was in July 2017 when we went to Yushan, Taiwan’s highest mountain (see that report here). This year, the older generation decided not to join us, but we had a great group of 8, Jasmine, her husband, their son and daughter, son’s girlfriend, a cousin, Laisun and me; that’s 4 older ones and 4 younger ones. Yes, it was fun! Jasmine and Laisun organized everything from applying for permits, the itinerary, accommodation, transport and advice on what to take. And what to wear too – we all had new T-shirts (of different colours but the same style) to wear on the summit!

And thus it was that we met at 7:00 pm on Monday July 20 at Tamsui MRT Station and set off in a minibus heading to Hsinchu County and the remote Atayal Town of Chingchuan 清泉 where we spent the night (and enjoyed a really good breakfast too!) at the Chingchuan RC Church Hostel. The Jesuit priest there, Fr. Barry Martinsen 丁松青神父 from California is very well-known in Taiwan, having served here for over 50 years, along with his brother, who died just a few years ago. The church was open, and is decorated with Atayal pictures on wood around the church at ground level. Hidden behind the altar was an Atayal Jesus breaking bread ~ I especially liked that.

The next morning, Tuesday July 21, we left early and drove further up the mountain to the Guanwu Forest Park Trailhead to start our big expedition. Here begins the very long, and let’s be honest, painfully tedious Dalu Forest Road 大鹿林道 which winds its merry way, mostly downhill, for a seemingly never-ending 19 km to Madara Creek Trailhead 馬達拉溪登山口. It feels never-ending not because it’s unpleasant – in fact the scenery is stunning – but because such a road is not really suited to wearing climbing boots, and rucksacks are heavy, even though we’d all pared down to the bare minimum ~ still mine was probably 10 kg with sleeping bag, mat and water added. Laisun meanwhile was carrying over 30 kg, including all the food, pots and pans and gas canisters that we would need for 8 of us for 4 days!

Until Typhoon Morakot hit in August 2008, it was possible for private vehicles to drive up the Dalu Forest Road to the Madara Creek Trailhead, but after the typhoon washed away the road, the whole trail and therefore access to the mountain was closed off until 2015. When it opened up, it was forbidden for vehicles to use the road, and now everyone has to trek along the road on foot. We did see motorcycles on the track, they were ferrying supplies to the Madara Creek Trailhead, from where the extremely strong and capable young men of the Atayal tribe carry huge loads up the mountain to the 99 Mountain Hut.

We walked for 4-5 hours along the Dalu Forest Road, starting about 9:00 am, but we didn’t get all the way to the Madara Creek Trailhead on the first day, instead we decided to stop overnight at one of the huts on the road, the one at the 15 km mark. The huts are there to provide basic shelter, but other than that, there is no electricity, no toilets, water is from a nearby stream and they also cannot be booked overnight. Officially we were supposed to be camping, but, well, by early afternoon, we were tired, aching and the heavens were about to open with a massive thunderstorm, as happens every afternoon in the high mountains in summer. So we were very grateful that one of the huts was empty and we could rest our weary feet for the night.

On Wednesday morning, July 22, well rested and refreshed (and with our sleeping bags stored in the hut ready to pick up on our return trip), we were up bright and early, starting out about 6:30 am for the remaining 4 km to the end of the Dalu Forest Road. There is a very steep short-cut downhill at the 17 km mark which cuts the final 2 km off the road walk, with ropes provided to help you down, though it’s much harder to balance with a rucksack, I can tell you!

Down at the Madara Creek Trailhead is another hut and also toilets with running water. It’s there that the path crosses the river on a red footbridge and the great ascent officially begins. Down below the bridge are the remains of the old suspension bridge that was washed away in a typhoon in 2012, which also took out part of the National Park office there which is still clinging on, though badly damaged and now unused.

The path up is mostly steep, 4 km and 1,000 meters of ascent, all forested – including the famous hinoki cypress at higher altitudes.

We had a few rest stops of course….

The Atayal porters do the trip in an hour, we took 4 ½ hours, but even with rucksacks, hey, we got there by lunchtime! The ‘there’ we were heading for was the 99 Mountain Hut 九九山莊, named after it’s altitude of 2,699 meters above sea level.

We were there for 2 nights, like nearly everyone else on the trail. There’s room for 300 people to stay overnight in large bunk dormitories or in smaller circular huts, which is where we stayed, and warm sleeping bags can be hired. Very cosy! The younger members of our group approved the row of toilets as being clean, with water streaming along under them washing away the waste, but each person has to take all their own rubbish, including used toilet paper, back down the mountain themselves. Electricity is available for overhead lighting for about an hour in the evening, but there are no plugs for recharging phones and although there is running water, it’s cold, and nobody takes a shower. In fact, do not expect a shower for the whole 4 days. As everyone is in this together, nobody gets too worried! It was 16°C during the day up there and about 10 at night, so it was OK, not too hot, not too cold. Meals can be booked at the 99 hut, or you can do it all yourself, and bring your own food and stoves. Laisun was in his element cooking up delicious meals with numerous dishes supplied for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Over the 4 days, we had steak, sausages, duck, chicken, rice, noodles, vegetables, soup, eggs, bread, and plenty more. And when he wasn’t actually cooking, he was boiling up water for us to drink during the day. We just had to supply our own snacks and drinks, like coffee – ah, such luxury!

Every day, the main concern was not if, but when it would rain, because if possible we didn’t want to be out there in it! Every day by about 12 noon, the fog was already rolling in, and by about 2:00 pm, it started raining heavily, with thunder and lightning. This went on for an hour or two, then it all stopped, the fog cleared and both nights we were at the 99 hut, there was a magnificent sunset.

The sunset-viewing hill, just above the 99 hut, also happens to be the place where there is a phone signal, so it seems the whole camp went up there after dinner. I switched my phone off completely for the whole 4 days, but all those around me were busy calling family and friends, posting photos and live updates of the sunset. It really was spectacular watching the clouds part, then the sun’s reflection on the sea, and finally the sun descended from below the clouds and turned the sky all orange. A fitting way to end the day.

And that was the end of the day, because after dark at about 7:00 pm, there really wasn’t much else to do but sleep and get ready for a very early start the next day. The next day was the day we were finally going to see the mountains we had come for, and we would be spending the whole day on the top of the mountain ridge.

Thursday July 23 was THE day! It also happened to be the 27th wedding anniversary of Jasmine and her husband, and we even found them a place to celebrate, on the top of the mountain ridge where stones had been arranged to form the words “I love you” and the numbers 2020 07 23, that day’s date. But that would come later, first we had to get up very early, along with everyone else in the whole camp, and set off. ‘Very early’ means we arranged to have breakfast at 3:00 am in order to leave at 3:30 am – so that we could get to the top of the ridge and along to all 4 mountains and back before the rain came again. The pressure was on!

As we set off, the sky above was filled with stars, and the whole Milky Way seemed to be on display for us, plus a few planets thrown in for good measure! We were led by our headlights, and it was steep, but as our main luggage was now at the 99 hut, so we only needed day packs, and boy, are they so much lighter! As we went up, down on our left were the shimmering lights of Taiwan’s west coast cities, Hsinchu, and further south towards Taichung. At 4:45 am, we got our first real live sighting of Dabajianshan (the rounded one centre left) and Xiaobajianshan (the pointed one centre right). It was a big ‘wow’ moment!

Soon the sun came up, and by 7:00 am we had the most glorious views of the whole mountain ridge…

Another ‘wow’ moment was looking to the left of Dabajianshan to see Dongbajianshan東霸尖山 of which there seemed to be 5 separate rounded mountains, very dramatically lined up in a row…

There was more to come, as we walked down through the forest path and up to the base of the rock face of Dabajianshan. That’s the place for the photos, our first Baiyue of the trip, whoopee! The rock face is just incredible, and from nearby, it’s possible to see that there must be a whole colony of swifts / swallows living there, as they’re all swirling around in the sky. Jasmine’s husband had brought along his mini-drone which he sent up to whirl around the mountain taking photos of us down below. The swifts were a bit uncertain about the drone, as was a butterfly, they came and circled around it checking out the strange object in their midst!

The metal frames there lead up to the edge of the rock face, from where we walked along, under the overhanging rock, past the rusted metal barriers that had once protected climbers in the past, now no longer in use. Soon we could see Taiwan’s east coast in the distance, with Turtle Island off the coast at Yilan, and further to the north, we could see Yangmingshan, the mountains above Taipei. We also passed the ‘I love you’ stone arrangements….

And so to Xiaobajianshan, tr: ‘Small Chief Pointed Mountain’. This is famous as being the most exhilarating part of the 4-day trip, as the top third of the summit has ropes and steep drops and ledges and all sorts of excitements that you need to get over to get to the top. We left our bags down on the ridge and it took us about 20 minutes to scale the rocks to the top. It was great! The summit was the highest point we actually climbed that day, 3,418 m.

And so back down again, which was a bit scarier than going up, and even though it was only 9:00 am, already the clouds were gathering, fog was starting to roll in and we had to get a move on.

Walking along back the way we came, we saw some beautiful Alpine flowers…

But by the time we turned around to get our last look at Dabajianshan and Xiaobajianshan, they were already disappearing into the fog!

This is our 3-minute drone footage on YouTube of that section of the trip – the music really adds to the atmosphere – do look at it, it’s great. Spot us walking along below the rock-face on the way back looking like little ants!

We had to go back on the same route as we came, but first we headed to Zhongba Hut, where we had left our cooking stuff on the way up in the morning, and where Laisun cooked up some noodles for lunch. Yum yum! On our way up in the morning, we had passed signposts to the 2 remaining Baiyue mountains, leaving them for the return trip in the afternoon. By 12 noon, we were up on the summit of Yizeshan 伊澤山 3,297 m, which is only about a short detour from the main path. On a clear day, the view would be great, but it was already foggy, apparently it’s quite normal for this time of year.

We had one more mountain to go, and the skies were turning darker and darker. The detour to Jialishan 加利山 3,112 m would take us about 40 minutes round-trip, but despite the threat of rain, still we just had to do it!

In the event, 6 of us took the detour, and though we got there fine at 2:00 pm, it started to rain the moment we left the summit and we had to move quite quickly. Back on the main path it was already raining hard, and even though we all hurried to get dressed up in our rain-gear, it was already a bit late, and well, we were very wet! But then, what is a mountain trip without a bit of rain? And thunder? And a lot of fog? We headed back down to the 99 hut in the rain, with distant thunder, and got safely back there about 3:30 pm, exactly 12 hours after starting out that morning…

And amazingly by the evening, the skies had cleared and we had a glorious sunset with hardly any fog to be seen! The whole sky was orange and pink. It was really such a beautiful way to end such an amazing day – and such a wonderful trip.

Friday July 24 was our final day, the day of the great descent from the 99 hut, all the way back to the Dalu Forest Road and so to the trail head and back home. We started very early, breakfast at 2:30 am and by 3:30 am we were all packed up and with our headlights on, ready to descend to the creek. We met 9 porters coming up in the dark with their massive loads, also groups starting their ascent, and later on, on the uphill forest road, we met lots of people heading along and up to the 99 hut, and many asked us about the rain and what time we had started out. The 4 younger people in our group all sped along, as did Laisun, now relieved of much of his heavy load – well, the food anyway. We were the group at the back, stopping at most of the rest stops and counting every 0.1 km as we passed each of the route markers! Just grateful we had left so early, so it wasn’t too hot, and it didn’t rain. We got back to the minibus at the Dalu Forest Road Trailhead at about 12 noon, relived to be back safe and sound, and so happy!

A very big thank you to Laisun for his calm leadership, flexible pace-setting, delicious cooking and being so willing to carry everything; he was heading back out to the high mountains later on Friday with another group, actually some of Jasmine’s former colleagues, who were going to climb Nanhu Big Mountain. He commented that due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, his mountain-climbing business had been badly affected earlier in the year, but now that restrictions have eased, people are once again venturing forth up the mountains – and as nobody wants to travel overseas for the foreseeable future, so they are using their holidays to climb Taiwan’s high mountains. This is Laisun in action….!

Another very big thank you to Jasmine for being so willing to include me in their family group, even to supplying the group T-shirts – and for keeping me up to date on how many Baiyue I have climbed since 2011; it’s now 22 in total, and all with Jasmine and her family! This was not the first time we had applied for permits for this trip, the other times had been unsuccessful; so thanks to Jasmine for her persistence in not giving up! I also really appreciated Jasmine’s husband for being so enthusiastic about taking photos and videos on his camera, GoPro and drone, and grateful to the younger generation for their willingness to help out, washing dishes, taking photos, fetching water, and generally cooperating and fitting in with the timetable – after all, getting up at 2:30 am for breakfast is really not everyone’s idea of fun 😮😃 – just don’t mention to them about the mouse at the 99 hut that ate its way through their Oreo biscuits! This is the group playing cards one evening…

Most of all, thanks be to God for his protection and safe-keeping. This is the typhoon season, so we were a bit worried; we had also heard from friends that they had climbed all the way up to Dabajianshan, only to see it shrouded in thick fog, and then it had rained all the time on the descent. In fact, every morning we had really good weather, no typhoon was forecast, and where was the wind? There was none! This time, everything went so well, and we are grateful for God’s grace and mercy throughout the trip. Yes, a big thumbs up, it was a great trip!

There is really not much in English on the internet about hiking Dabajianshan, but for further information, the following 2 blog posts are recommended:

How to hike Mount Dabajian-Part 1 – 大霸尖山 / Part 2 October 2019

Hiking in Taiwan: Dabajianshan (大霸尖山) 4-Day Solo Hike August 2017

Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang 張員榮 consecrated and installed as bishop of Taiwan!

Bishop Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang (center) at his consecration as bishop of Taiwan on Feb. 22, 2020, with Bishop David J. H. Lai (left), bishop of Taiwan 2001-2020, and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (right), chief consecrator. Photo: Mr. Yei Yung-Xian for the Diocese of Taiwan

“Hello, Taiwan! It is a blessing to be with you on this glorious day, and I know that I speak for all the archbishops and bishops that this is a glorious day!” With that joyful introduction, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry began his sermon to an expectant crowd of over 400 people gathered inside and outside St. John’s Cathedral in Taipei on Feb. 22 to witness the ordination, consecration, installation and seating of the Rev. Lennon Yuan-Rung Chang as the sixth bishop of Taiwan.

Whole congregation photo by Warren Chuo

Despite growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, it was considered safe to continue with the consecration service, although the evening’s consecration banquet was canceled and travel restrictions meant that the archbishop and bishops of Hong Kong were unable to participate. The service was performed in Mandarin Chinese and English, and Curry led the service as chief consecrator. The co-consecrators were Bishop David J. H. Lai of Taiwan, Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick of Hawaii, Archbishop and Primate of Japan Nathaniel Uematsu, Bishop Haruhisa Iso of Osaka (Taiwan’s companion diocese) and Bishop Greg Rickel of Olympia. Archbishop and Primate of Korea Moses Yoo, Bishop Todd Ousley of the presiding bishop’s staff, Bishop John Smylie of Wyoming, most of the Province VIII bishops and a group of 15 clergy and church members from the Diocese of Osaka gave the service a special international flavor. Clergy stoles, flowers and decorations were all in traditional Chinese red, while firecrackers and a taiko drum performance enlivened the celebrations during the service, as did the combined choir from three Taipei churches.

Flower arrangement by Ms. Susan Shih, Good Shepherd Church

Chang, 64, is married to Hannah Fen-Jan Wei and has two daughters and three grandchildren. He graduated in 1975 with a diploma in industrial engineering from St. John’s and St. Mary’s Institute of Technology, the predecessor of St. John’s University, Taipei, where he was also baptized in 1970. As associate professor of mathematics at St. John’s University from 1983 to 2016, Chang was ordained a deacon in 1995 and a priest in 1999. He served as chaplain of St. John’s University (1997-2016) and vicar, later rector, of Advent Church on the St. John’s University campus, which serves as both university chapel and parish church.

Bishop Chang, his wife Hannah and 2 daughters

In his acceptance speech after his election as bishop on Aug. 3, 2019, Chang said, “Building on the work of Bishop David J. H. Lai over the past 20 years, I will continue to go forth in the name of the Lord.” His inspiration and role model is Bishop James C. L. Wong, first Chinese bishop of Taiwan (1965-70) and founder of St. John’s University, whose motto was “Transforming lives through the life of Christ.” Chang sees himself as inheriting Wong’s legacy, and in his sermon Curry referred to Wong’s life and witness, exhorting the congregation, “I want you and your bishop-elect to claim this high calling, to transform lives through the life of Christ, through the love of Christ, through the goodness of Christ. Bishop Wong was right! I hope you are as excited about this as I am!” He ended his sermon with some personal encouragement to Chang: “Help us to follow Jesus, help us to find our way to God and to each other, and may the legacy of Bishop Wong be your ministry in the future!”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry encouraging Bishop-elect Chang in his sermon

At the end of the service, Curry paid tribute to Chancellor Herbert H. P. Ma, presenting him with a letter of thanksgiving in recognition of his ministry, constancy, wisdom and faithfulness over the past 65 years to the Episcopal Church in Taiwan, which was established in 1954 and is now a member diocese of Province VIII.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with Canon Chancellor Herbert H. P. Ma and Mrs. Aline Ma

The above article was our official account of the consecration, published on the Episcopal News Service (ENS) website here.

Photos of the Consecration Service

Part 1: Before the service – checking temperatures and preparation…